WASHINGTON — Court documents filed by the Justice Department say there is evidence that White House political director Janet G. Mullins helped encourage and direct the search of Bill Clinton's passport files.
The documents, disclosed Monday, were filed by Atty. Gen. William P. Barr on Dec. 10 to support his request for an independent counsel in the case. They do not specify the nature of the evidence. But it was weighed by a special three-judge panel that then named Joseph E. diGenova to pursue a full-scale probe.
In the Dec. 14 order appointing DiGenova--unsealed by the court with other papers Monday--the judges directed him to consider six possible felony violations by Mullins, including whether she conspired with "one or more other persons" to commit any federal offense.
The undisclosed evidence appears to challenge an initial report by Sherman M. Funk, the State Department inspector general, that he could find no indication that the White House had orchestrated the file search.
It could not be determined whether the evidence was uncovered by State Department investigators after Funk's report was issued or whether it was turned up by Justice Department investigators conducting the preliminary inquiry that led to Barr's decision to seek an outside prosecutor.
Barr and the special court made no explicit mention of White House Chief of Staff James A. Baker III, Mullins' longtime boss, or another Baker associate, Margaret Tutwiler, White House communications director, both of whom were questioned for Funk's report and who have retained criminal defense attorneys.
DiGenova, in an interview, said that "those who are being investigated are and will be presumed innocent," and declined to estimate how long the probe will take. However, as a former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and now managing partner of the Washington office of Manatt, Phelps, Phillips and Kantor, DiGenova has sharply criticized the independent counsel law, particularly the length of investigations conducted by outside prosecutors.
In Barr's application to the court, he noted that Mullins twice denied to Funk's agents that she had knowledge of, or participated in, the search of Clinton's files.
But, he said, "other evidence directly contradicts Mullins' statements."
"There is also evidence that Mullins was aware of the interest in Clinton's files before the search occurred and that Mullins helped encourage and direct the search," Barr told the judges. Under the independent counsel provisions, which expired the day after DiGenova was appointed, Barr was required to seek appointment of an outside prosecutor unless he decided there were no reasonable grounds to believe that further investigation was warranted.
"I conclude that further investigation is warranted because there is evidence that supports the allegations against Mullins, and the evidence of her lack of criminal intent is less than clear and convincing," Barr said.
Mullins, who held a high position in the 1988 Bush campaign, came to the White House as political director late in the 1992 campaign as a top aide to Baker, who moved over from the State Department in an attempt to salvage Bush's faltering reelection bid. Her duties were varied, but she has been considered a member of the White House inner circle.
The controversy over Clinton's passport files began in October, when Newsweek reported that State Department officials had searched the Democratic presidential candidate's records.
The State Department initially said the search had been a routine response to reporters' requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Several news organizations had made the request after hearing rumors that Clinton may have sought to renounce his U.S. citizenship in protest of the Vietnam War when he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in England. No such evidence was ever found.
It soon became clear, however, that the search had been carried out with unusual speed by senior officers of the State Department's Passport Office, under the direct supervision of Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Elizabeth M. Tamposi, a former GOP fund raiser from New Hampshire.
Funk concluded that the search had been improperly ordered for political reasons and that the immediate responsibility lay with Tamposi and Steven K. Berry, a former Mullins aide at the State Department. Tamposi was fired. Berry was removed from his responsibilities but allowed to remain on the department payroll.
Tamposi, according to Funk's investigation, said that Berry called her about Clinton's files on Sept. 28 and represented himself as working on behalf of Mullins. Berry conceded he may have told Tamposi about White House interest but maintained that no one in the White House had asked him to try to get Clinton's files. The special court listed six federal felonies that DiGenova should consider as he pursues his investigation:
* Making a false statement on a matter within the jurisdiction of a federal department;
* Trying to corruptly obstruct the inspector general's investigation;
* Conspiring to commit any federal crime or to defraud the United States or deprive citizens of the honest services of a government employee;
* Using interstate wire connections to deprive citizens of the honest services of public servants;
* Stealing or converting anything of value to the United States--a section used against government employees for unauthorized disclosure of confidential information;
* Using official authority to interfere with the election of a candidate for President or other federal office.