WASHINGTON — Atty. Gen. William P. Barr refused Tuesday to authorize an independent prosecutor to investigate charges that high-level Justice Department officials stole software from a computer company and conspired to drive it into bankruptcy.
Barr rejected a call for the independent counsel made on Sept. 10 by House Democrats. In a two-page statement, he said there was not enough specific information against high-level department officials to warrant an independent investigation.
He said his own appointee to probe the matter, retired U.S. District Judge Nicholas Bua, "is conducting his investigation in a fair and impartial manner."
Barr said that he conducted "an exhaustive review of the allegations" and that Bua found no evidence to warrant an independent investigation.
Twenty-one Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee had urged Barr to appoint an independent counsel to look into alleged wrongdoing against INSLAW Inc.
In the early 1980s, the Washington-based company had a $10-million contract with the Justice Department to develop software for a nationwide computer system to help lawyers keep track of and share information.
When the department revoked the contract, INSLAW's owners filed suit, accusing some top department officials--including former Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III--of stealing the software.
Barr's decision marks the second time in a little more than two months that he has turned down requests from congressional Democrats for independent counsels in sensitive cases.
On Aug. 10, Barr refused to call for an independent counsel to look into charges that the Bush Administration illegally assisted Iraq, before Baghdad invaded Kuwait, and then tried to cover up that aid.
Barr has been a leading critic of the independent counsel law, which is due to expire Dec. 5. Congress adjourned this month without authorizing its renewal.
The INSLAW affair also attracted attention with the death in August, 1991, of Joseph Daniel Casolaro, a free-lance writer who was probing the case. Casolaro was found with his wrists slashed in the bathtub of a hotel room in Martinsburg, W. Va. His death was ruled suicide.