- The Washington Times - Monday, March 25, 2002

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee wants the Justice Department and the General Accounting Office to investigate whether former independent counsel Robert W. Ray engaged in improper political activities while in office.
Mr. Ray is now a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey.
In letters to Attorney General John Ashcroft and GAO Comptroller General David Walker, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, questioned whether Mr. Ray interviewed consultants and staff, and lined up financial backers while still employed as the chief prosecutor in the $70 million Whitewater investigation.
"The available information warrants a formal investigation of Mr. Ray's conduct," Mr. Leahy said, adding that rules governing the conduct of federal prosecutors were designed to "ensure that the decisions they reach are based entirely and impartially on the evidence and the law, and to avoid undermining public confidence in our nation's justice system."
Mr. Ray, who resigned as independent counsel on March 12 after three years on the job, announced last week he would join the field of Republican candidates vying to challenge Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat.
He denies doing anything improper and has accused Mr. Leahy of participating in "the very worst of the partisan political politics that dominates Washington."
Mr. Leahy, in his letter to Mr. Ashcroft, said it was "widely understood" when Mr. Ray assumed office in October 1999 that he was committed to seeing it through to its completion, but he resigned 10 days before a final report was issued on March 20.
He said Mr. Ray was "quietly taking steps for at least the past two months to mount a bid for the Republican nomination for the Senate, and that he had already begun to lay the groundwork even before wrapping up his official duties" as independent counsel.
Mr. Leahy said Mr. Ray, while still in office, met with the chairman of the New Jersey Republican Party, along with fund-raisers as early as the beginning of January. The Vermont Democrat also said that Mr. Ray spoke with declared candidates including state Sen. John Matheussen and Assemblyman Guy Gregg, and attended political and fund-raising events in New Jersey.
He said Mr. Ray also met with former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler, who according to published reports said the conversation revolved around Mr. Ray's candidacy for elected office.
"It is difficult to imagine any career federal prosecutor engaging in partisan political activities while investigating a routine public corruption case, particularly one involving persons in another party," Mr. Leahy said. "Most reasonable people would agree that it would be unprecedented for a federal prosecutor actively making investigatory decisions on a day-to-day basis to be publicly exploring a run for the Senate.
"How much more problematic is the appearance created by such activity on behalf of an independent counsel in a matter as sensitive as the Whitewater case?" he said.
In addition to creating the appearance of impropriety, Mr. Leahy said, published reports on Mr. Ray's activities in New Jersey raise "serious questions" on whether he violated federal law or ethics rules restraining the political activities of public servants and the use of public property.
"When Mr. Ray was selected to be an independent counsel, many remarked at his youth but were assured that as a 'career prosecutor,' he was a suitable selection," Mr. Leahy said. "Now, it appears that serving as independent counsel is an ending point to that 'career' and the start of his political campaign."
He asked the Justice Department to determine when Mr. Ray began to explore and garner financial and political support for his senatorial bid; what specific activities and conversations he had regarding the election; and whether his plans to pursue the seat affected his actions in any way as independent counsel.

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