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Records Give Rare Glimpse Into Cost of Starr's Probe

Inquiry: First detailed billing for the over $40-million investigation of Clinton runs from routine to exceptional.

October 29, 1998|LISA GETTER and ALAN C. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Much of the more than $40 million that independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr has spent investigating President Clinton paid for a large staff of government prosecutors, new office equipment, up to $400-an-hour consultants, luxury apartments and private investigators, newly disclosed documents show.

Government accounting records, obtained by Democrats on a House Judiciary subcommittee, offer a rare, detailed glimpse into the level of spending by the independent counsel during his 50-month investigation.

The money went for the routine and the exceptional: $370-a-month in parking assigned to "independent counsel," three safes for $6,546 and a $30,517 psychological analysis of evidence in the suicide of former White House lawyer Vincent Foster by the same Washington group that looked into the untimely death of rock musician Kurt Cobain.

Since Starr started probing Clinton's relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky in January, the independent counsel has been widely criticized by Democrats and others for the cost of a wide-ranging investigation that began in 1994 to look into a controversial Arkansas real estate project called Whitewater.

Starr has declined to release the kind of detailed billing and expense statements contained in the documents provided to The Times on Wednesday. The only financial reports previously released through the General Accounting Office disclosed summary information that did not include line-item expenditures.

The new records offer a snapshot of spending by the independent counsel from documents used by the GAO to audit Starr's books.

"At the very least, here's a story of a lack of accountability, of extravagance with taxpayer dollars and of arrogance on the part of Ken Starr and his office," said Jim Jordan, spokesman for the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee.

Starr's spokesman, Charles G. Bakaly III, defended the spending, citing the special nature of the independent counsel's office.

"Each independent counsel must secure employees, office equipment and office space," Bakaly said. "We follow government procurement guidelines. . . . "

Under the independent counsel law, Starr does not have to publicly disclose precisely how he spends taxpayer money. The GAO audits the expenditures every six months to make sure they conform with federal rules. Starr is permitted to spend as much money as he deems necessary during his investigation. .

Famed Democratic Watergate counsel Sam Dash, who joined Starr's team as an ethics consultant in 1994, received a top rate for Washington attorneys--$400 an hour. He often earned $2,000 for five-hour weeks. The Georgetown University law professor earned $192,073 through September 1997 before signing a yearlong contract for a maximum $104,000 annually.

"I'm being paid for my work and paid for my usual rate for anybody who retains me," Dash said. He would not explain his work for Starr. "I do quite a bit, but what I do is secret and confidential."

University of Illinois law professor Ronald Rotunda, who helped write a Supreme Court brief opposing Clinton's bid to delay the Paula Corbin Jones sexual harassment case, also is a consultant to the Starr team. Rotunda's fee: $300 an hour for services that included "legal research," "work on special project" and "various phone consultations," the documents show.

In August, after amassing an $118,400 tab, Rotunda decided he would stay on the Starr team at no charge to the taxpayers.

Decision Analysis, an Illinois firm normally hired by litigators, received $32,380 for a "community attitude survey and jury questionnaire" to help Starr prepare the fraud case against former Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker.

The use of such expert consultants by government prosecutors is rare.

"On occasion, in a particularly significant case, the government will use a jury consultant," said Richard Drooyan, chief assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles. "But they do not routinely use them." Starr spent more than $729,000 on five private investigators who were hired to supplement dozens of FBI agents assigned to the case. Some of the investigators had retired from the FBI. He also paid as much as $19,000 each month to house eight members of his staff at a luxury apartment building.

The independent counsel's office purchased 21 computers for $37,915 in March, but GAO auditors never saw the equipment because "of the extreme sensitivity of investigative activities . . . Starr did not want GAO [or anyone] having access to the office space," the records state.

All equipment acquired by Starr's office will be turned over to the federal government after his inquiry ends.

In response to questions from The Times, Starr's office earlier this month disclosed it had spent $4.4 million investigating Clinton's role in the Lewinsky case from January until Aug. 31.

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