Bentsen Accused of Tainting Senate Whitewater Probe
Republican members of the Senate Whitewater Committee charged Tuesday that former Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen had compromised an investigation last year into allegedly improper contacts between his department and the White House.
Bentsen, while denying the charges, acknowledged that he sent confidential transcripts of testimony in the ethics probe to then-White House Counsel Lloyd N. Cutler at Cutler’s request. Bentsen said he did so only to help Cutler prepare for his own appearance before congressional committees looking into Whitewater-related matters.
Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.) told Bentsen that his actions may have “tipped off the White House” to the findings of an investigation being conducted by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, an independent agency of the executive branch.
Bentsen, who resigned from his Cabinet post in December, compromised the ethics office “for seemingly political purposes,” Bond charged.
In defending his actions, Bentsen said he himself had initiated the ethics office inquiry. He said he did so to determine if contacts that White House officials made in 1993 with lawyers for the Treasury Department and the Resolution Trust Corp., which Treasury supervises, had violated any ethical standards.
Those contacts came the same year that the RTC started looking into the failure of an Arkansas savings and loan owned by a former business partner of President Clinton’s.
The ethics office, without its own investigative staff, relied on lawyers assigned to the inspectors general of the Treasury Department and RTC to question witnesses under oath. Bentsen sent copies of this testimony to Cutler.
Bentsen said Cutler asked for the transcripts during a private luncheon in June, 1994, when Cutler had been directed by Clinton to conduct his own inquiry into any improper White House contacts with Treasury.
Bentsen said he agreed to furnish the materials because Cutler had been “fully cooperative” in the ethics office probe and was trying to obtain “as much information as possible” before his own congressional testimony.
Bentsen said he and Cutler had a written agreement that the transcripts would not be shown to anyone else.
He insisted to committee members that he saw nothing improper in sending copies of witnesses’ testimony to Cutler. “He could come over and depose any of those people himself if he wanted,” Bentsen said. “We simply wanted to help him get to the bottom of it.”
Two RTC officials testified Tuesday that they were shocked and dismayed that Bentsen had sent transcripts from the ethics inquiry to the White House counsel’s office. They said the materials contained “privileged information.”