The four public independent counsel investigations have run up bills of nearly $5 million through August, with the investigation of Iran-contra prober Lawrence E. Walsh accounting for almost $3 million of the total, according to figures released by the Justice Department yesterday.
The department, which pays the independent counsels' expenses, released copies of monthly expenditure reports for July and August sent to the House and Senate appropriations subcommittees that oversee the department's budget.
The four counsels cost $4.9 million as of the end of August, spending almost $1 million during that supposedly sleepy month alone, the reports said.
In addition to Walsh, whose probe has cost $2.97 million since its start in December through the end of August, the expenditures were:Alexia Morrison: $707,087 to investigate former assistant attorney general Theodore B. Olson's testimony to Congress about the EPA superfund scandal. Whitney North Seymour Jr.: $664,103 to prosecute former White House aide Michael K. Deaver, whose perjury trial started Monday. James McKay: $566,171 in an investigation of the Wedtech scandal that resulted in the indictment of former White House aide Lyn Nofziger and that includes a probe of Attorney General Edwin Meese III.
Probes by at least two other independent counsels have not been made public, and their expenditures were not included in the figures provided by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Salaries and benefits accounted for slightly more than half the costs of the investigations, which also included printing stationery ($325.23, not including envelopes), renting copying equipment ($110,746.73), and airfare ($137,241.42).
Two of the independent counsels -- McKay and Seymour -- spent no money on office space, while Morrison spent $133,577 and Walsh spent $336,579.
The Justice Department is attacking the constitutionality of the independent counsel statute in a case involving the Olson probe in the federal appeals court here. Congress is also weighing a rewrite of the law, which expires in January.
In June, Assistant Attorney General John R. Bolton assailed the investigations as too expensive. "Nothing is too trivial for these people to investigate. And the proof of that lies in what we already know about their expenditures," Bolton said at a news conference.
"They're costing an awful lot more than has ever been the case before," Justice Department spokesman Patrick S. Korten said yesterday. Korten, who called the probes "frighteningly expensive," said the department has "no way of judging" whether the costs are justified.
Congress included $4 million for independent counsels this year in the supplemental appropriations bill passed in July.
The reports released yesterday said Walsh's office spent $69,264 for telephone equipment, $242,701 for word processing equipment, and $69,866 for car rentals.
Walsh spokesman Judy Smith yesterday defended the costs as appropriate. "The cost of the investigation really is in direct relation to the scope," she said.
"To comply with established national security policy for handling sensitive information, we are required to use certain computers and telephone equipment," Smith said.