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Independent Counsel: Filegate Prosections Are Unwarranted

By Robert L. Jackson
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

In the first of several reports that will sum up the nearly 6-year-old Whitewater investigation, independent counsel Robert W. Ray reported Thursday that his prosecutors found no criminal wrongdoing when White House officials obtained hundreds of FBI personnel files early in the Clinton administration.

The furor over confidential files of mainly Republican appointees falling into the hands of Clinton aides erupted in 1996 and led to investigations by Republican-led committees of the House and Senate.

FBI Director Louis J. Freeh apologized for the security breach and vowed that it would never happen again. In that highly charged atmosphere, then-independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr began an inquiry into whether any criminal statutes had been violated and outsiders began calling the case “Filegate.”

Ray, a top deputy who succeeded Starr in October, said that a thorough investigation by his office had determined that “no prosecutions were warranted.”

The White House told congressional committees that the episode was a bureaucratic blunder by lower-level aides who were trying to update White House security clearances from previous Republican administrations.

Although Ray’s report, by law, remains under seal until released by a supervisory panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, his office issued a public statement that read in part:

“The independent counsel determined that there was no substantial and credible evidence that any senior White House official, or first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, was involved in seeking confidential FBI background reports of former White House staff from the prior administrations of President Bush and President Reagan.”

Ray said that his office did not investigate alleged violations of the federal Privacy Act of 1974 “because such offenses are excluded from the jurisdiction of an independent counsel.” He added that “the matter is now closed.”

White House spokesman Jim Kennedy said the findings come as no surprise. Referring to other reports that will follow in coming months, Kennedy added: “We have made clear our desire to have all this finished as promptly as possible and in accordance with the statutes.”