House Republicans subpoena private investigators' files Panel seeks information on fund raising from firm close to White House

March 20, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- House Republicans have subpoenaed a private investigative firm with close ties to the White House, signaling their intent to open a broad investigation into whether the firm is acting as a "secret police force" for the Clinton administration.

The subpoena, signed by Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, seeks any information that the firm, Investigative Group International Inc., might have on Democratic fund raising.

But in a clear nod to the scandal surrounding President Clinton, the subpoena also requests documents on possible IGI investigations of Justice Department or FBI officials or members of Congress.

Republicans contend that IGI, a global company based in Washington, has been dispatched by the president's allies to dig up dirt on independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and his staff, who are paid by the Justice Department, on FBI agents detailed to Starr's office and on other Clinton accusers.

For example, Rep. Robert L. Livingston, a Louisiana Republican who hopes to become the next speaker of the House, accused IGI yesterday of having recently uncovered Linda R. Tripp's arrest on grand larceny charges when she was 19. Such efforts, critics of the administration say, are meant to shift attention from the accusations against Clinton.

"If true, this is frightening," Livingston said. "It smacks of a totalitarian society."

White House officials denied the allegations, and Democrats on Capitol Hill countered that Republican investigators are again hot on the trail of a conspiracy theory that lacks factual basis.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, the leading Democrat on Burton's committee, protested that the subpoena had nothing to do with the committee's order to look into fund-raising abuses of the 1996 election campaign. Instead, Waxman said, Burton is taking the committee into the Monica Lewinsky scandal engulfing the White House.

"The subpoena appears to be nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to assist independent counsel Kenneth Starr in his current investigation of Monica Lewinsky," Waxman said in a letter to Burton. "Since you have previously stated that the committee will not be investigating the Monica Lewinsky matter, I do not believe this subpoena should be issued."

A White House official called the subpoena a partisan "fishing expedition" intended to bring the Lewinsky matter to Capitol Hill for a public airing to embarrass the president.

But Republicans say the smoke surrounding IGI is concealing some kind of fire. The committee's stated reason for examining the company stems from an IGI probe of Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie, the Little Rock, Ark., restaurateur who has been indicted on charges of illegal campaign fund raising. The president's first legal-defense fund hired IGI and its chairman, Terry F. Lenzner, a longtime Democratic activist, to investigate Trie's donations to Clinton's defense.

House investigators want to know what IGI discovered about Trie, but they also want much more. Republicans accuse the White House of having used IGI as a "plumbers' unit" for "dirty tricks" campaigns against Clinton enemies.

"This deserves more scrutiny then anything else we're hearing about today," Livingston said.

The company's ties to the White House run deep. Ricki Seidman, a former IGI investigator, is a former Clinton aide. A former IGI investigator, Brooke Shearer, is now an Interior Department official and the wife of Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. IGI hired Larry Potts, the former FBI deputy director involved in the Ruby Ridge shooting in Idaho, last fall. And Howard Shapiro, the FBI's chief counsel during "Filegate," the first-term controversy over FBI files on Republican White House aides, now serves as an outside attorney for Lenzner and IGI.

In 1994, the firm received a lucrative no-bid contract from the State Department to send its president at the time, Raymond Kelly, to train Haitian police and supervise international police monitoring. Kelly now heads the U.S. Customs Service.

"Washington's a small town," said Kathy Lavinder, managing director for operations of IGI's Washington office, seeking to explain the web of contacts connecting her firm to the administration.

The White House said it saw nothing suspicious. Jim Kennedy, a spokesman for the White House counsel's office, said the Clinton administration had never authorized any background investigations of Starr's staff or members of Congress.

As for IGI's Clinton connections, "it's a free country," Kennedy said. "People can work where they want. Unless they have any evidence suggesting anything wrong with all this, then [the subpoena] amounts to nothing more than another partisan attack."

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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