Witness silent in probe of FBI files Key figure refuses to testify before Senate committee

June 29, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- The inquiry into the Clinton administration's improper gathering of FBI background files intensified yesterday a key witness invoked his constitutional right of silence and officials disclosed that the independent counsel's office had sealed a White House file vault to protect evidence.

Anthony Marceca, the former White House security worker who improperly obtained the FBI background files of hundreds of people, including dozens of prominent Republicans, exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination before a Senate committee investigating the affair for political abuses and executive mismanagement.

Marceca did so through his lawyer as he was scheduled to answer questions from the Judiciary Committee on how he came to improperly gather a mass of highly sensitive files that ranged well beyond Clinton administration personnel to Republicans from previous administrations.

The White House insists that the mistake was an innocent one, not a secret intelligence-gathering operation, and that it was due to the use of an outdated Secret Service list of people allowed access to administration offices in recent years.

The Secret Service, however, strongly disagreed yesterday in testimony before the committee. Supervising Agent John Libonati testified that careful testing of the service's computer system has determined that there could be "no massive error" of the sort that would highlight the hundreds of inactive names whose FBI files were obtained by the Clinton White House's office of personnel security.

Secret Service witnesses, clearly resisting a scapegoat's role, contradicted the administration on basic details of the files mystery. Special Agent Arnold Cole testified that Craig Livingstone, the White House official who resigned Wednesday as director of personnel security, privately apologized in recent weeks and told him, "Using the old list was our fault. We had the current list you guys gave us. I don't know what happened."

Livingstone had testified earlier at the hearing, once again saying that a major mismanagement error, not political skulduggery, was the honest explanation of the affair. He was not asked about Cole's testimony.

Reacting to Marceca's refusal to testify, the White House issued a statement regretting that "the public's right to know all the facts has been partly blocked for the time being."

The seven-hour hearing saw Republicans find fresh energy for their complaints that the Clinton administration may have systematically vetted the FBI files of ranking Republicans.

The sudden absence of Marceca, a civilian investigator for the Army and worker in the Clinton election campaign, heightened the Republicans' vows to get to the bottom of the files affair.

So, too, did word from a witness that Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel newly authorized to range beyond his Whitewater investigations and take on the files affair, was quietly on the job, ordering sealed the vault where the contested background files were kept.

The Judiciary chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, announced he had asked Starr to assist the Senate by running fingerprint tests on the disputed files to see who handled them -- a step Starr is expected to undertake in his determination of whether the controversy points to criminal, not just administrative, misdeeds.

Marceca had testified Wednesday at a similar hearing in the House that the files were obtained out of error and were closely protected in the White House. But then, on advice of counsel, he chose to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights and not show up at the Senate panel.

In reaction, Hatch noted that Marceca previously admitted that he had made two computer discs of White House information and had taken them home.

The senator speculated that something illegal might have occurred, but the security worker said that he had merely taken the discs to help clear up a backlog of security clearance requests that had been piling up at the White House at the end of 1993.

An additional twist to Marceca's temporary duty in the White House has come to light in a defamation lawsuit he filed in which he admitted stealing a glimpse at his own FBI background file.

In September, 1994, several months after leaving the White House job, Marceca visited Livingstone, he said, after hearing of derogatory information in his file.

While left alone in the office, Marceca said in a deposition in the Texas suit, he was able to sneak a glimpse of his file which, he said, had fallen to the floor.

Pub Date: 6/29/96

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