November 18, 2005,
There has been a major setback for people working to secure the full public release of the report by Clinton-era independent counsel David Barrett. A House and Senate conference committee has agreed on language that could keep key portions of the report secret forever, despite the efforts of Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Wisconsin Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to make it public. Democrats, led by North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan, led the fight to keep the report away from public scrutiny.
The conference report gives the judiciary panel that oversees Barrett the authority to "make such orders as are appropriate to protect the rights of any individual named" in Barrett's report. What that means, in practical terms, is that Section 5 of Barrett's report, the portion of the document that is thought to be most controversial, dealing with the behavior of the Internal Revenue Service during the independent counsel's investigation, might never be released.
Barrett was appointed in May 1995 to investigate allegations that Henry Cisneros, Bill Clinton's secretary of housing, lied to the FBI about payments he had made to his mistress. In September 1999, Cisneros pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and paid a $10,000 fine. But the investigation did not stop there, because during the course of the probe, Barrett reportedly sought information about Cisneros' taxes and ran into a roadblock erected by the IRS. There have been reports that Barrett then spent a significant amount of time trying to investigate possible IRS misconduct, and what happened in the course of that investigation is apparently the subject of some of Barrett's final report.
The report has been finished since the summer of 2004, but the panel of judges never gave Barrett the O. K. to release it publicly. Frustrated by the inaction, Grassley last month demanded that the court give him a copy. The court then ordered that parts of the report excluding Section 5 be made public, but so far that has not happened. Why even those portions of the report thought to be non-controversial have not been released is not clear.
Now, the language of the House-Senate conference, giving the authority over release of the report back to the judges, seems likely to guarantee that Section 5, and perhaps other parts of the report as well, will never be released. It is a major defeat for Barrett, who last month told National Review that, "The Congress and the public have a right to know the contents of the entire report."
It is also a setback for taxpayers. Barrett has so far spent about $20 million in public funds on the investigation. If it is not released, there will be no way for the public to determine whether such an enormous expenditure was justified, or whether Barrett wasted the taxpayers' money.
Byron York, NR's White House correspondent, is the author of the new book The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy: The Untold Story of How Democratic Operatives, Eccentric Billionaires, Liberal Activists, and Assorted Celebrities Tried to Bring Down a President and Why They'll Try Even Harder Next Time.