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Review Clears Justice Dept. in Rep. Gray Case

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Solicitor General Kenneth W. Starr concluded Wednesday that an internal Justice Department inquiry into the circumstances that led to public disclosure of an investigation involving House Democratic Whip William H. Gray III was thorough and that no disciplinary action is warranted.

The Gray investigation was revealed in a CBS-TV broadcast as the Pennsylvania congressman was running for his House leadership post last year, sparking accusations that the leak was politically motivated. Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh subsequently ordered the internal inquiry by the department’s criminal division.

Thornburgh asked for Starr’s review after rejecting advice by the department’s internal watchdog, who had called for further investigation and possible discipline, according to sources.

The Justice Department investigation of Gray’s office focused on alleged financial irregularities involving a former accountant for the congressman and prompted an unusual statement by Thornburgh that Gray himself was not a target.

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Thornburgh and Starr met Wednesday with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jack Brooks (D-Tex.) and the ranking Republican members of both panels to report Starr’s findings.

Biden had expressed concern because Thornburgh did not place the investigation in the hands of Michael E. Shaheen Jr., counsel of the office for professional responsibility. Shaheen, the Justice Department’s chief internal watchdog, is the official who normally would conduct an investigation of a departmental leak.

Starr’s inquiry found that “several individuals” experienced difficulties with polygraph examinations during the internal inquiry. It has been reported previously that Robert S. Ross Jr., Thornburgh’s former executive assistant, and David Runkel, his chief spokesman, showed deception during lie detector tests administered by the FBI.

Both men, who served under Thornburgh when he was governor of Pennsylvania, were reassigned to other duties Monday. But senior department officials have said that their reassignments were not related to the Gray incident.

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In his announcement, Starr cited “certain concerns of an administrative nature,” and noted that Thornburgh has taken corrective actions. Those administrative problems appeared to be related to the press office’s policy of handling inquiries about criminal investigations.

Starr agreed with the criminal division’s finding that there was no evidence that any individual at the “main” Justice Department--a term that excludes the FBI--or at any U.S. attorney’s office was the source of the original unauthorized disclosure.

He noted that Runkel played a secondary confirming role when CBS reporter Rita Braver asked him about the story she had uncovered. Although it was not mentioned by Starr, the agency’s criminal division also found that an FBI official, no longer with the bureau, served as a secondary confirming source on the Gray story.

Starr did not recommend that any disciplinary action be taken against Justice Department officials and concluded that Thornburgh was acting appropriately when he came to a similar conclusion.

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