After Democratic senators corrected its falsehoods, WSJ claimed "small victory"

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

After falsely accusing Democratic senators of trying to suppress the final report of the decade-long, $21 million independent counsel investigation of former Clinton cabinet secretary Henry Cisneros, The Wall Street Journal editorial page congratulated itself on a "small victory" when the senators sent a letter correcting the Journal by noting that they were not, in fact, trying to suppress the report.

On April 22, the Journal claimed that a Senate amendment sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) [S AMDT 399 to HR 1268], which would eliminate funding for Independent Counsel David Barrett's investigation of Cisneros effective June 1, would "have the practical effect of making sure that Mr. Barrett's report never sees the light of day." Citing an unnamed source, the Journal suggested that Democrats' true motive for the amendment was to suppress the revelation of "an attempted cover-up by the Clinton Administration." Armed with this un-provable accusation, the Journal asked: "[W]hat don't Democrats want everyone to know?"

But on April 27, the Journal published a response from Dorgan, and Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Richard Durbin (D-IL), who cosponsored Dorgan's amendment. In a letter to the editor, the senators noted:

The amendment doesn't prevent the publication of the report, it just closes the outrageously expensive Independent Counsel's office. The substantive work of the Independent Counsel was completed when it submitted its report to the three-judge panel in August 2004. The decision to make the report public rests solely in the hands of that panel, not with the Independent Counsel or Congress.

Indeed, 28 USC 594(h)(2), a federal law governing independent counsels, states: "The division of the court may release to the Congress, the public, or any appropriate person, such portions of a report made under this subsection as the division of the court considers appropriate."

On April 21, the Senate approved Dorgan's amendment, which was attached to the supplemental appropriation for Iraq and Afghanistan, by unanimous consent, which means that a roll call vote was unnecessary because no senator from either party objected to it.

Even though the senators' letter directly contradicted the Journal's earlier assertion, the Journal claimed in an accompanying editorial that the letter constituted a "small victory" because Democrats are "now saying they want the independent counsel report investigating IRS abuses related to the Henry Cisneros tax-fraud case to be made public." In fact, the senators had never said otherwise. The Journal continued: "As the Senators concede, their provision could end up putting the fate of the report in the hands of the Justice Department." But the senators' letter said only that "the underlying law allows for the transfer of cases that are 'substantially completed' to the Department of Justice." The provision the senators cited simply grants the Justice Department authority over whether to initiate prosecutions based on the prosecutor's findings or conduct additional investigation; it does not grant the Justice Department authority to suppress the report's release.

Barrett was appointed in 1995 to investigate allegations that Cisneros, Clinton's then-secretary of Housing and Urban Development, had lied to federal authorities about money he had paid to a mistress. Cisneros pleaded guilty to the charges in 1999 and paid a fine, but "Barrett stayed in business to investigate whether anyone in the Clinton administration had attempted to obstruct justice during the probe." Barrett's investigation has spent $21 million since its inception -- including "more than $1.26 million of federal money in the last six months of fiscal 2004" [Washington Post, 4/1/05].

The Journal's April 22 editorial also claimed falsely that "a rash of news stories and editorials are urging Barrett to wrap up his investigation forthwith, without releasing his findings." In fact, a Nexis search* of all U.S. newspapers and wire services over the past six months produced several news reports and editorials concerning the duration and cost of Barrett's investigation, but none advocated that Barrett's findings be suppressed. The Houston Chronicle's April 12 editorial criticized the ongoing investigation for "punish[ing] the taxpayers," but did not mention Barrett's report. An April 5 San Antonio Express-News editorial (registration required) also criticized the investigation's profligate spending but specifically noted that "Barrett's final report is expected this summer." Both the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News endorsed George W. Bush for president in 2000 and 2004.

* Media Matters for America used the following search string: Barrett and Cisneros and (investigat! or independent counsel).

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