The Justice Department said yesterday that Congress will receive all the documents it wants about the planned sale of Conrail, despite a short-lived misunderstanding within Justice's antitrust division over what documents should be saved.
The reassurance to Congress came in a seven-page Justice Department letter to Rep. John D. Dingell Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, from Douglas H. Ginsburg, chief of the antitrust division. Dingell earlier had charged that Justice destroyed notes and drafts leading to Justice's conditional endorsement of the sale.
The exchange is but another chapter in the dialogue between Dingell's committee and the administration on how the decision was made to sell Conrail to Norfolk Southern Corp. A similar flurry of correspondence and charges of noncooperation occurred between a subcommittee and the Transportation Department, which selected Norfolk Southern's $1.2 billion bid as the winner.
Dingell said in his letter that his oversight and investigations subcommittee had learned that Justice staffers working on the Conrail sale were instructed to "destroy personal files, including notes and all drafts of documents and . . . not to make notes or create work papers in the future."
Ginsburg responded that, "for a short time in the late summer and early fall of this year, the staff thought that superseded drafts of documents and personal notes should not be retained. When this came to our attention, the staff was instructed to return to their normal retention practice." That practice was defined as one of keeping everything and making it all available.
However, Ginsburg wrote, two "innocuous" notes were destroyed during the period of misunderstanding. He also said that staff drafts of one of his letters to Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole were destroyed, a practice that would continue.
"I ordered the superseded drafts to be destroyed in order to avoid speculation about views or language that the staff had attributed to me but that I did not ultimately adopt as my own," Ginsburg said. "Under similar circumstances in the future, I would give the same instruction." He also noted that he was available to Congress to explain "our analysis and conclusions."
It is probable that the Senate will act on legislation concerning the Norfolk Southern purchase early next year. Then the issue will move to the House and primarily Dingell's committee, where its future is uncertain.