Cost of Special Probes Detailed
By Dan Morgan
From April through September, Starr's spending on salaries, travel, rent, supplies and private outside contractors--along with special services from the FBI, Internal Revenue Service and other agencies of the government--increased more than 50 percent over the previous six months.
With the latest figures, Starr is closing in on the record for spending by an independent counsel: the $47.4 million spent by Lawrence Walsh on the eight-year investigation of Reagan administration officials involved in the Iran-contra affair. Starr commenced his investigation of Whitewater and related matters in August 1994. Since then, he has spent $39.2 million probing Whitewater and President Clinton's affair with Lewinsky. Before Starr's appointment, a special counsel appointed by Attorney General Janet Reno had spent $6 million on a probe of Whitewater.
Responding to the report, a Starr spokesman said: "The monumental effort required to conduct the investigation of Monica Lewinsky and others required an unusual commitment of resources."
However, the latest figures are likely to be grist for members of Congress and the legal profession who want to revise the 21-year-old independent counsel statute when it expires June 30 or to let it die.
"I think the single most effective way to contain costs would be to [have] time limits," said Curtis E. von Kann, whose two-year, $460,000 independent counsel investigation of former Clinton administration official Eli J. Segal was concluded in November.
The case was closed without charges being brought against Segal, former chief executive of the national service program AmeriCorps.
Testifying before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee earlier this year, von Kann recommended retaining the statute but imposing a one-year time limit on independent counsels. A maximum of two six-month extensions could be granted under his proposal.
Critics of the statute have focused, in particular, on the absence of financial constraints, which some contend leads to overzealous tactics being brought to bear on witnesses and defendants. "The IC holds a blank check," wrote Georgetown University law professor Julie O'Sullivan in a critique of the statute.
O'Sullivan, who worked briefly for Starr's Whitewater prosecution team in 1994, noted that the independent counsel is the only prosecutor in the country who functions "without assuming responsibility for funding shortfalls, and without worrying about competing demands upon available resources."
In addition to Starr, five other independent counsels are currently conducting investigations. Four of those focus on the Clinton administration. The combined costs of those four inquiries and the Starr probe now comes to $69.4 million.
A four-year investigation of Henry Cisneros, former secretary of housing and urban development, is scheduled to culminate in a trial of the former Clinton administration official in July on charges related to statements he made about payments to a mistress.
Independent counsel David M. Barrett spent $1.4 million from April through September last year on the probe, which has cost $8.7 million so far.
An investigation of Clinton's former agriculture secretary, Mike Espy, who was acquitted by a jury last year, has cost $19.2 million.
Two newer investigations--of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman--have cost less than $2 million. A probe of the late commerce secretary Ronald H. Brown, a victim of a 1996 airplane crash, was terminated after expenditures of $3 million.
Financial documents made public last year by Congress in connection with the Starr investigation shed some light on the details of his spending. It included payments to private investigators, a company that helps prosecutors assess jurors and "suicidologists" hired to evaluate the late Clinton aide Vincent W. Foster, who committed suicide in 1993.
Yesterday's GAO report revealed that the special three-judge panel that appoints independent counsels had authorized reimbursement from government funds of $99,767 to cover the legal expenses of "an individual who had been investigated by Independent Counsel von Kann but not indicted."
Segal, the principal subject of the von Kann investigation, could not be reached for comment as to whether the individual was him. His lawyer also could not be reached.
Staff writer Bill Miller contributed to this report.
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