Passport quest is linked to White House Clinton files were searched

November 25, 1992|By Robert Pear | Robert Pear,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- State Department investigators have obtained evidence suggesting that the White House may have been involved in conceiving and coordinating the search through Bill Clinton's passport files, a federal official said yesterday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, would not disclose the nature of the evidence. But the State Department report on the affair that was issued last week hinted at one potential source: notes on telephone calls monitored by the department's communications center.

The author of that report, Sherman M. Funk, the department's inspector general, said last week that he had found no evidence that the White House "orchestrated an 'attack' on the Clinton files."

He said then that the search Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 had been motivated by political appointees' desire to gather information that could have damaged the Clinton campaign.

But State Department officials said Mr. Funk was continuing his investigation, partly because of the information that has come to light in the last week and partly because of criticism by members of Congress who say his report was inadequate.

"We are pursuing further leads," Mr. Funk said in an interview yesterday, without giving details. "We will follow all our leads, wherever they take us."

That marked the first confirmation that Mr. Funk has renewed his investigation. Without saying so explicitly, he left the impression last week that he had completed his inquiry.

As they have throughout the investigation, White House officials refused to comment yesterday on any aspect of Mr. Funk's inquiry.

At the request of Congress, the General Accounting Office is conducting a separate investigation to determine the role of the White House in the search for Mr. Clinton's passport files.

Anyone who has additional information about the search and retrieval of Mr. Clinton's passport files should "give it to us," Mr. Funk said.

The latest evidence suggests, but does not conclusively prove, a White House role in planning the search for Mr. Clinton's files, federal officials said.

Elizabeth M. Tamposi, the assistant secretary of state for consular affairs who supervised the search for Mr. Clinton's files, was dismissed by President Bush on Nov. 10.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a State Department official said yesterday that investigators had found evidence suggesting that one or more White House officials had been involved in "the inception and coordination of the effort to search through Clinton's file."

Mr. Funk's report hinted at one source of such evidence: notes of telephone conversations between two State Department officials, Ms. Tamposi and Steven K. Berry, from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4.

The operations center of the State Department monitored those conversations and took notes. But Mr. Funk did not use the notes in preparing his report because of concern that such monitoring, done without the consent of Ms. Tamposi or Mr. Berry, might have violated federal law on telephone privacy.

Mr. Berry, the acting assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, was demoted for his role in the passport search. He has said that he told Ms. Tamposi the White House wanted consular files searched for negative information on Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Berry told investigators that the White House wanted to know whether Mr. Clinton had ever expressed a desire to renounce his United States citizenship to avoid the draft. No letter or other document reflecting such a desire was found.

Investigators said the notes of the monitored phone calls confirm White House interest in the Clinton files and provide leads for further investigation.

The Justice Department is reviewing the legality of the monitoring.

The operations center of the State Department helps connect phone calls to and from State Department officials. Employees of the operations center often listened to such conversations without telling the person who made the call or the person who received it.

Initially, the State Department said it had conducted the search as a routine response to requests for information from the records that had been filed by news organizations under the Freedom of Information Act.

But the department later acknowledged that the search had been carried out far faster than usual, in violation of its regulations, and Mr. Funk said there was clear evidence that the aim was to gather information that could have influenced the election.

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