Independent Counsel Report on Cisneros Released

An independent counsel who investigated possible tax violations by former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros charged Thursday that the Clinton administration thwarted his efforts to get to the truth.

David M. Barrett, appointed in 1995 to investigate potential felonies committed by the one-time Clinton administration secretary released his final report Thursday, but stated clearly he is not pleased with the result.

In a press release from Barrett's office, the counsel complained that "an accurate title for the report could be, 'What We Were Prevented From Investigating.'"

Click here to read the report.

Barrett said the 10-year probe was a long and difficult investigation, and he hoped that people would read the entire report, actually titled "Final Report of the Independent Counsel in re: Henry G. Cisneros." He added that he wants people to draw their own conclusions from the report.

"After a thorough reading of the report it would not be unreasonable to conclude as I have that there was a coverup at high levels of our government and, it appears to have been substantial and coordinated. The question is why? And that question regrettably will go unanswered. Unlike some other cover-ups, this one succeeded."

Barrett told earlier this month that thanks to an amendment to the November judiciary appropriations bill, key elements in the final report, which was completed in August 2004 and has been sitting with a three-judge panel at the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. ever since, was to be heavily redacted before its release.

In the final report issued Thursday, at least one portion of Section Five was "redacted pursuant to court order," as were four appendices.

"I believe after 10 years and the expense of $22 million, the public has the right to see the entire report and make their own judgments," he said before the report's release.

In 1999, Cisneros pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of lying to the FBI, paid a $10,000 fine and was later pardoned by then-President Clinton. Cisneros attorney Rhonda Meadows said Thursday that the investigation should have ended then.

"The court indicated that this resolution was appropriate and stated that 'there is no evidence in this case that Mr. Cisneros in any respect compromised any of his public responsibilities. At all times, he has faithfully discharged the duties of his office,'" she said.

"Mr. Cisneros moved on with his life. The independent counsel spent another six years and millions of public dollars investigating others without bringing any charges against anyone. The final report makes allegations that the independent counsel chose not to have decided in the court system by a jury because those allegations are baseless and would have been rejected by any objective fact finder with access to all of the facts," Meadows added.

In October, after voicing concerns that the report had yet to be released, Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., introduced an amendment to the judiciary appropriations bill that would have released all portions of the report, with deletions only for "clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy."

But the language worked out in the subsequent House-Senate conference and in the final bill gave much more discretion to the court to redact individuals' names, which critics contended, would ensure that the most serious charges would be left out of the final report.

Barrett said he is disappointed, but not surprised, at the developments. At least 146 motions have been filed by lawyers connected to the individuals cited in the 474-page report, delaying its release.

In the executive summary, Barrett wrote, "The evidence available to the [independent counsel] strongly suggested that officials in both [the Department of Justice] and the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") had undermined the attorney general's exercise of discretion by actively working to block any investigation or prosecution of Cisneros for tax offenses, regardless of the merits. At worst, these activities could have represented criminal obstruction of justice."

He continued that his office was limited by lack of cooperation and support from the Department of Justice, subpoenas that limited work and a statute of limitations on offenses passing, he chose to end the probe.

"Consequently, this report is necessarily incomplete in its discussion of these obstruction of justice allegations, because the OIC was unable to resolve the issue with finality - either through prosecution or a determination that prosecution was not warranted," he wrote.

When Barrett went to the Department of Justice seeking to broaden the probe, Attorney General Janet Reno allowed the prosecutor to look into only a single tax year, the report maintains. It says the Internal Revenue Service in Washington took an investigation of Cisneros out of the hands of district-level officials in Texas, then concluded the evidence was too weak to merit a criminal inquiry.

"Beginning in the summer of 1997, the OIC developed, to the extent it could, evidence concerning efforts by officials of DOJ and the IRS to contain and limit the investigation of Cisneros' actions," the report states.

The report adds: "In the end enough high-ranking officials with enough power were able to blunt any effort to bring about a full and independent examination of Cisneros' possible tax offenses in the face of what seemed to many to be obvious grounds for such an inquiry."

Prior to the report's release, some Democrats had suggested that Barrett, who was a former Republican lobbyist and activist before being appointed independent counsel, had overreached his initial mission, which was to investigate whether Cisneros had lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about payments he made to his mistress.

According to a Government Accountability Office report in October, Barrett's office has spent more than $10 million since Cisneros' plea, ratcheting up the total expenses for the office to $22 million since Barrett's 1995 appointment. Since his report was filed in August 2004 until March 2005, he spent $1 million, according to the GAO, mostly on compensation, contractual services and benefits.

"The Barrett investigation has gone on too long and it's wasted millions of taxpayer dollars," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., in a statement through his spokeswoman. "I don't have any problem with Mr. Barrett releasing his report ... I just want him to stop wasting taxpayer dollars on an investigation he could have finished years ago. "

Robert S. Litt, one of the Justice Department officials involved, called Barrett's suggestions of obstruction "a scurrilous falsehood," adding that the report was "a fitting conclusion to one of the most embarrassingly incompetent and wasteful episodes in the history of American law enforcement."

Barrett defends the long years and money he has spent since the Cisneros affair, which he calls "tragic." He told that he has "been called every name in the book," and has spent many days and nights away from his family over the course of the years. He said he has never taken his task lightly or from a partisan point of view.

"This has been very carefully done, " he said, noting that the report went through 26 drafts before its completion.'s Kelley Beaucar Vlahos and The Associated Press contributed to this report.