WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen asked his agency's independent investigator last weekend for copies of interviews from an ongoing ethics review of the Clinton Administration's handling of Whitewater, officials said Saturday.
Bentsen, who ordered the review and was among those interviewed, forwarded the Treasury inspector general's documents to the White House so it could prepare for congressional hearings, the Administration officials said.
By law, the inspector general's office is supposed to be free of political interference.
Administration officials said they saw nothing wrong with Bentsen's request and the documents were forwarded to White House Counsel Lloyd N. Cutler. They said no one except Cutler saw the information.
"Nothing we did compromised the integrity of the investigation," Cutler said in an interview. "The IG was essentially finished with the investigation."
He said the White House and Treasury arranged to get the reports to save his staff from doing duplicative interviews. "It was more economic," he said.
But the arrangement drew criticism from outside the Administration.
Sherman Funk, an inspector general for 13 years at the State and Commerce departments before retiring last year, said it was "totally inappropriate" for an inspector general to release investigative interviews from an ongoing probe.
"The whole purpose of the IG is their independence, and if their independence can be questioned then the very usefulness of the IG is impaired," Funk said.
Republicans, who have sought in congressional hearings to portray the Clinton Administration as meddling in an earlier savings and loan probe involving the Clintons and the Whitewater real estate venture, pounced on the revelation.
"The question now under review is one of independence of a regulatory agency investigation. And now we have questions about the independence of the inspector general's office at a Cabinet-level department," Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) said.