WASHINGTON -- A two-day search of State Department passport files for incriminating information on Bill Clinton grew out of an effort to influence the presidential election, the department's inspector general concluded yesterday.
Sherman Funk, the inspector general, said that while there was no evidence that the White House or the Bush campaign directed the search on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, he suspected that at least one senior White House official -- political director Janet Mullins -- was informed of it even as it was under way.
White House Chief of Staff James A. Baker III told investigators that he may have been told by Ms. Mullins of the search as early as the day it occurred.
Acting Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger, who ordered the inspector general's probe and was not implicated in its findings, said yesterday that, as the department's top official, he had offered to resign after the affair came to light but that President Bush had rejected the offer.
Publicly apologizing, he said: "This entire episode put the State Department front and center in the one place it should never be -- the political arena." He pledged to "begin the process of restoring the tarnished image of this department."
Mr. Funk's investigators were told by one of the State Department officials involved that the White House "would have been extremely pleased" if information detrimental to Mr. Clinton had been discovered before the election.
Reporting on an internal probe begun shortly after the passport search was publicly revealed, Mr. Funk said: "The basic conclusion of the report is that there was indeed an attempt to use the Department of State, the records and the people of the Department of State to influence the outcome of a presidential election."
Mr. Funk's report, based on 107 interviews, assigns chief responsibility to two politically appointed assistant secretaries: Elizabeth Tamposi, who headed the bureau of consular affairs, which controls the passport office, and Steven K. Berry, who ran the bureau that acts as liaison between the department and Congress.
Mrs. Tamposi, a prominent New Hampshire Republican with ties to former White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu, was fired last week at Mr. Funk's urging after he found serious lapses in judgment.
Mr. Berry, a former congressional aide who relayed the demands by Republican congressmen for a search of Mr. Clinton's records, was likewise faulted for "serious lapses in judgment" and demoted.
The report says the affair unfolded against the backdrop of "heady" campaign rumors that Mr. Clinton, while a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, had written to the State Department about renouncing his U.S. citizenship.
The rumors gave rise to requests from news organizations, under the Freedom of Information Act, for information on Mr. Clinton, an opponent of the Vietnam War who had sought to avoid the draft.
At about the same time, some GOP congressmen, working through Mr. Berry, were pressing for the same type of information.
Rep. Gerald B. H. Solomon, R-N.Y., made a sweeping request for information on dual citizenship but his real aim, Mr. Berry told investigators, was to elicit information on Mr. Clinton.
The consular affairs bureau, driven "at least in some part" by hopes to derail the Clinton campaign, promoted a search "of unprecedented scope, urgency, thoroughness and seniority of participants," the report said. The search was accompanied by calls to European embassies seeking records on Mr. Clinton.
Department officials have said there was little likelihood that the contents of Mr. Clinton's files could have been given to the news media without violating the privacy act. Nevertheless, Mr. Funk said, the department was obligated to check to see if they contained anything that could be released.
Members of Congress who supported Mr. Bush could have received information denied to the news media, however. Although there is no clear department policy, some bureaus operate in the belief that congressional requests "require expedited handling and could not envision withholding documents to a member of Congress, except in extraordinary instances involving national security," according to an appendix to the report.
Mr. Berry told investigators he helped Mr. Solomon draft his request for information. Investigators also were told that Mr. Berry asked a department lawyer six days before the search began about department records on dual citizenship.
Two days before the search, Mr. Berry reached Mrs. Tamposi, then on a business trip in Seattle, to inquire about what files the department kept on citizenship records. He invoked the name of Ms. Mullins, his predecessor who at the time was a top aide to Mr. Baker at the White House, according to Mrs. Tamposi's account.
The inspector general found no evidence "that the White House -- or any other external source -- orchestrated an 'attack' on the Clinton files." Nevertheless, he told reporters yesterday he suspected that Mr. Berry had informed Ms. Mullins of the search the night it began.
Mr. Baker told investigators he had no knowledge of any attempt by anyone at the White House to search Mr. Clinton's passport files.
"Mr. Baker said he had not spoken to anyone at the department about Mr. Clinton's files, and the first he had heard about the search was on September 30 or October 1 from Ms. Mullins. According to Mr. Baker, no one at the department was feeding a 'blow-by-blow' account of the progress of the file search to the White House."