Looking into the Passport Case

December 28, 1992

Joseph diGenova says Janet Mullins, a Bush political adviser, and un-named other officials he will investigate as an independent counsel "are and will be presumed innocent" of having broken the law in handling Bill Clinton's passport files. That's as it should be. The special counsel law, as we have said before, is easily triggered, and often in the past has produced probes that did not lead to findings of guilt by anyone.

Having said that, we also have to say that it has long been clear to us that someone broke the law in this case. You are not supposed to go rifling through confidential passport files for political purposes. Whether it was Ms. Mullins, President Bush's special assistant for political affairs, who alone was named in the Justice Department's request for an independent counsel, or some associate, or some subordinate, or even her boss, White House chief of staff James Baker, who was the responsible party, we have no way of knowing.

The presumption of innocence also allows for the possibility that the wrongdoing in this case was stupid bungling rather than criminal. However, at this point it is hard not to be influenced by Attorney General William Barr's statement to the judicial panel that decided to appoint Mr. DiGenova: "The evidence of [Janet Mullins'] lack of criminal intent is less than clear and convincing."

Mr. DiGenova is a surprising and interesting choice. He has political ambitions (at one time he was considered a possible Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Maryland this year), and he has been a critic of the independent counsel law. But as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia he was known for aggressive, successful and professional pursuits of criminals. His criticism of the independent counsel law has been based on the way some investigations have dragged on for a long time, leaving targets twisting in the wind. Presumably he will act expeditiously.

That would be in everyone's interest. But he must also determine what exactly happened and who exactly did what -- not only in connection with the handling of the Clinton passport records, but also in then responding to an earlier investigation of the case. Two of the avenues the judicial panel instructed Mr. DiGenova to pursue have to do with possible cover-up in that investigation.

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