Justice to probe deeper into Cisneros' payments

October 15, 1994|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- After an inquiry into whether Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros misled the FBI about payments he made to a former girlfriend, the Justice Department has found the allegations credible enough to warrant further investigation, Mr. Cisneros' lawyer said yesterday.

By moving into the next stage of the investigation, the Justice Department has 90 days to determine whether to recommend the appointment of an independent counsel to conduct a fuller inquiry.

Mr. Cisneros' lawyer, Cono Namorato, said he was not surprised by the Justice Department's decision, given the narrow scope of the initial probe -- which looked only at whether the allegations were specific and credible -- and was confident that the investigation would exonerate Mr. Cisneros.

At issue is whether Mr. Cisneros misled FBI agents who conducted a background check for his appointment as secretary of housing and urban development about how much he paid his former girlfriend, Linda Medlar, after their affair ended.

"While I had hoped that this matter would end during the first stage of the inquiry, given the limited scope of that stage I understand why it has moved into the next phase," Mr. Cisneros said yesterday in a statement issued by his attorney.

"I have made mistakes in judgment in my personal life, but I have always adhered to the law. I have not allowed this matter to distract me from my duties at HUD, and in the coming days, my lawyers will deal with this matter while I continue to focus on the housing problems of our nations' communities."

The cloud over Mr. Cisneros has been another headache for the Clinton administration, which was dealt a blow recently when ethics questions forced Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy to step down, effective at the end of the year. Mr. Espy is still under investigation by an independent counsel for accepting gifts from those in the industry he regulates.

The Cisneros investigation concerns phone conversations between Mr. Cisneros and Ms. Medlar, secretly taped by her, in which the two discuss the money he was paying her. Ms. Medlar, who sold the tapes and transcripts to NBC's "Inside Edition" for $15,000, has said that Mr. Cisneros paid her about $200,000, a figure he does not dispute.

But she has said Mr. Cisneros, the former mayor of San Antonio, understated the amount to FBI agents.

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