Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Mouse That Didn't Roar

In the end -- after a wasteful 11 years and a misspent $21 million -- Special Prosecutor David M. Barnett today brought forth a mouse in the matter of whether former Clinton administration Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros evaded paying income taxes.

There was no question that Cisneros had tax troubles and lied to FBI agents about them when he was being considered for the cabinet-level position, so the longest and most ridiculous independent counsel investigation ever was bound to end with a whimper and not a bang.

What is not so ridiculous is an important sidelight: Barnett’s scathing conclusion that the Clinton administration -- and notably Attorney General Janet Reno -- stonewalled he and his staff at nearly every turn, something that the Bush administration has been notably adept at doing under arguably more serious circumstances.

Cisneros resigned his post, was indicted on 18 felony counts and eventually pleaded guilty to a measly misdemeanor charge of lying to investigators. Clinton later pardoned him.

Barrett kept the pedal to the metal for more than six years after the law that created the special prosecutor system was allowed to die. The law was not renewed after both Democrats and Republicans agreed that the goal of keeping political influence out of criminal investigations of high-ranking officials had failed. Exhibit A in that regard was Kenneth Starr, whose tenure as a special prosecutor began in 1994 with an investigation of the so-called Whitewater scandal but when that didn't pan out morphed into a right-wing Republican-backed Clinton administration witch hunt before finally sputtering to a halt in 1999.

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