II: Inslaw Prosecutors BY DEBORAH LIMERBECK . Washington, D.C. BACK WHEN EDWIN MEESE was still Attorney General, at least one store in Washington sold a T-shirt that said, “Experts Agree: Meese is a Pig.” In hindsight, that statement was probably truest in the Orwellian sense that all animals are equal but some more than others. The independent counsel statute that was adopted to redress that kind of inequality will expire on Dec. 15. As Rep. Jack Brooks, D-Beaumont, recently told reporters, “Anyone whose memory stretches back a mere 20 years to the days of Richard Nixon and Watergate and the plumbers and Archibald Cox and the Saturday Night Massacre should appreciate the need for this legislation and the simple fact that to ask the Justice Department to investigate high-level members of its own administration is to ask too much of them.” Times do change. These days, the Department of Justice is all too willing to look into matters for itself. That’s why it turned down a request for an independent counsel to investigate the socalled Iraq-gate case. And, that’s why it more than likely will turn down the more recent appeal made by the House Judiciary Committee, which Brooks chairs, to appoint a special counsel to study the INSLAW Affair. Briefly, Bill and Nancy Hamilton headed a non-profit organization that received government funding in the 1970s to develop a legal software program. In later years, the Hamiltons formed a private corporation called INSLAW. Under INSLAW they developed an enhanced legal software program called PROMIS and sold it to the Justice Department for $10 million in 1982. Justice never paid. By 1988, INSLAW was in bankruptcy court, where the Hamiltons were awarded some $6.8 million. A Federal District Court upheld the award, but a Court of Appeals later threw it out on technical grounds. The Supreme Court decided not to hear the case. Then came the House Judiciary Committee investigation. While the committee has more authority than the average gumshoe, it did not embark upon an investigation to reach a verdict; instead it was an effort to investigate whether there were grounds for further investigation. This is what Brooks found: “This report culminates the Committee’s three-year investigation into serious allegations that high-level Department of Justice officials were involved in a criminal conspiracy to force INSLAW, a small computer company, out of business and steal its primary asset a software system called PROMIS. While the Department continues to attempt to describe its conflict with Deborah Lutterbeck is a financial writer based in New York. INSLAW as a simple contract dispute that has been blown out of proportion by the media, the Committee’s investigation.has uncovered information which suggests a much different, _ disturbing conclusion.” Part of what the Committee uncovered was already in the public record. A federal court found that the Department of Justice “acted willfully and fraudulently,” and “took, converted and stole,” INSLAW’S Enhanced PROMIS by “trickery fraud and deceit.” And just what might be at the root of all this “trickery fraud and deceit”? Brooks asked reporters, “Someone must have made some money.” Money, it seems, is at the root of many things. While the firing of Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox might have been the catalyst for creating the independent counsel law 20 years ago, Lawrence Walsh wears that mantle these days. He is Washington’s own $40 million man. \(Or such is the estimated cost of his Iran-Contra mind, 28 Republican senators reportedly sent a letter to Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole, citing Walsh’s costly five-year investigation and stating that they would filibuster any effort to renew theindependent prosecutor law. \(In case you want to know whether Texas’ own Republican Sen. Phil Gramm was on that list, you will have to look elsewhere. According to his press secretary, Gramm does not talk to Other Texans have not been reticent to declare their position on the issue. Take Rep. Henry Gonzalez, D-San Antonio. In the course of the investigation by. the House Banking Committee, which he chairs, evidence revealed that the U.S. government might have been duplicitous back when Saddam Hussein was adding to his military stockpile by using U.S.-backed loans. Gonzalez, too, called for an independent counsel. That call was not heeded. “First the Attorney General denounces and obstructs Congressional investigations and now blocks inquiries by a Special Counsel,” Gonzalez said. “[Attorney General Richard] Barr is playing a dangerous political game in a desperate attempt to protect the Bush administration.” Brooks, too, weighed in on this issue. In a floor speech at the end of September, he said, “There is no dispute that documents in the Commerce Department were altered to hide the fact that agricultural loan programs were being corrupted by permitting military vehicles to be exported to Iraq. When these and other actions were presented to the Attorney General by the House Judiciary Committee, he refused to appoint an independent counsel to provide an objective look at the actions of high-level officials in obstructing justice and misleading Congress and the American people. He also rejected any investigations into handling the [Banco Nazionale del Lavaro] case in which U.S. prosecutors confined their indictment to three bank officials in Atlanta for diverting billions of dollars to Iraqi front companies.” He went on to say, “So the tilt toward Iraq still remains the secret province of the Executive Branch which initiated it, which refused to allow the sunlight of an independent investigation to look into it, and which now trumpets its foreign policy prowess as a reason to continue in government.” Brooks might want to reprise that speech when his request for INSLAW is rejected. These days, calling for an independent counsel is about as futile as mining for diamonds in a sandbox. But avoiding the appointment of independent counsel has its penalties, too. Heck, even Meese himself knew the value and use of the independent counsel. As Sen. Bill Cohen, a Maine Republican, said in early August, “I recall, for example, that Attorney General Meese was alleged to have engaged in a number of improprieties. I also recall that he requested an independent counsel be appointed to investigate his case. And, in fact, after that investigation Mr. Meese was cleared of those charges of impropriety. Now I would like to ask any of my colleagues on the left, on the right, Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that had Justice Department conducted that investigation of Attorney General Meese and refused to indict or find improprieties that there would have been suspicion cast upon the integrity of that investigation?” There is an easy answer to that question. Maybe Meese felt better about lawyers than the current administration. As Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., points out, it is ironic that this administration the one that has made such a point of chastising members of the bar should tolerate such standards from its own counselors. “In this situation precisely, [they are behaving as] they have accused private counsel of [behaving] at their worst,” he said. Even though the independent counsel provision will expire Dec. 15, it will not go gently into the good night. Throughout this session, hearings have been held to extend the independent counsel law for another five years. That extension will most assuredly be taken up again next year. From Brooks came the following pledge: “I want to serve notice that this issue will not go away. It will return next year when, God willing, we have a President who recognizes that the independent counsel statute serves the ends of Justice and also serves to uphold his own administration’s image of even handed administration ofJustice.” In the meantime, Lawrence Walsh is still in business. 12 OCTOBER 16, 1992
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