Passport to a Very Bad Precedent : State Dept. must always remain above politics

The State Department’s internal investigation of the search of Gov. Bill Clinton’s passport records could find no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, fraud, corruption or an effort to subvert U.S. foreign policy. What it did confirm was an improper use of authority--originating, it’s believed, with just a few political appointees--intended “to influence the outcome of a presidential election.”

This improper action, acting Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger said angrily, “put the State Department in the one place it should never be--in the political arena.”

Sherman M. Funk, the department’s inspector general, characterized the effort at political manipulation as “heinous.”

Eagleburger, who earlier offered to resign over the affair, personally apologized for the abuse, which occurred without his knowledge. Was the problem, he was asked at a press conference Wednesday, traceable to political appointees, specifically though not exclusively to Elizabeth M. Tamposi, who headed the consular affairs bureau before she was dismissed recently? The problem, he responded, was not with political appointees as such--rather it was with the kind of people appointed.

In the immediate case a number of partisan officials zealously abused their power. Funk thinks they acted on their own: “We found no evidence that the White House--or any other external source--orchestrated” the search of the Clinton files.


Perhaps not. But the inquiry did determine that White House political director Janet G. Mullins knew of the passport file search as soon as it occurred in September, and that she had earlier let it be known she was eager to learn what the files might contain. It is similarly a fact that a number of Republican politicians and campaign staffers worked hard to plant rumors that Clinton may have thought about renouncing his U.S. citizenship in the 1960s. All this was connected to the GOP campaign theme questioning Clinton’s character and patriotism. Was the signal to good partisans more or less that any information supporting the innuendoes raised by the Republican campaign would be welcome?

These rumors soon prompted press queries under the Freedom of Information Act about Clinton’s passport records. It was this that provided the cover for Tamposi and her associates to use State Department resources and personnel for partisan aims. This may not have been “orchestration,” but only the naive could regard it as just a wild coincidence.