Lost in the tumult over Islamic port deals and Katrina video capers is the recently released — and willfully ignored — Barrett Report. David Barrett, you’ll recall, is the independent counsel appointed in 1995 to investigate allegations of impropriety against President Clinton’s Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros.
Mr. Barrett found his path mined by the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service and President Clinton’s attorneys, even after Mr. Clinton departed the White House. He prepared 18 felony indictments against Mr. Cisneros but had to settle for a guilty plea on a misdemeanor charge (lying to the FBI about his mistress, a poor choice for a tax write-off). He sought to prosecute Mr. Cisneros for tax fraud over a period of years but was thwarted by Attorney General Janet Reno. Ultimately Mr. Cisneros resigned his post, whereupon President Clinton, constitutionally bound to men who lie about their mistresses, pardoned him.
Worse, Mr. Barrett’s investigations led him into bleak wilds where unnumbered Clinton misdeeds allegedly lay beneath bureaucratic camouflage. These findings comprised a full 120 pages of his 684-page report — but you won’t find them in the final document published on January 19. That’s because congressional Democrats, led by Sens. Byron Dorgan, Dick Durbin and John Kerry, used an appropriations bill to leverage a deal redacting the potentially lethal 120 pages.
A frustrated Mr. Barrett released this statement: “An accurate title for the report could be, ‘What We Were Prevented From Investigating.’” He added: “After a thorough reading of the report it would not be unreasonable to conclude as I have that there was a cover-up at high levels of our government and it appears to have been substantial and coordinated. The question is why? And that question will regrettably go unanswered. Unlike some other cover-ups, this one succeeded.” Just so.
The media in the main treated Mr. Barrett as if he had spent the past ten years chasing ambulances down Pennsylvania Avenue. The New York Times, in self-imposed redaction, nimbly sidestepped the issue of the missing pages. NBC and CBS ignored the report entirely, while ABC cited unnamed critics as branding the study “incompetent, wasteful and without merit.” Objection. One witness may be questionable testimony, but two witnesses are corroborating evidence.
I’m an avowed liberal and a registered Democrat, but I can appreciate Mr. Barrett’s ordeal like no other because for nine years I’ve been negotiating a parallel minefield. Herewith, the redacted portion of my life: In 1997, attending to dark rumors, I contracted with a Washington financial investigator — I’ll call him “Deep” for originality’s sake — to run a background check on Norman Pearlstine, former editor of The Wall Street Journal, who’d been hired by his crony, Time Warner CEO Gerry Levin, as Time Inc’s editor-in-chief.
Sure enough, Deep reported that Mr. Pearlstine was living far beyond his evident means — for instance, he had three lavish houses plus a Manhattan co-op. On request, I turned the report over to the chief of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division in Newark, N.J. Two weeks later, Deep’s main IRS contact told him Mr. Pearlstine’s tax returns “did not remotely match” his assets and that the agency had assigned two top criminal investigators to the case.
Deep lost the Pearlstine trail, then picked it up again in 2001. “Gerry Levin went to his pal Bill Clinton to get The White House to quash the investigation,” he told me. “The two agents assigned to the case were transferred to less sensitive jobs and told to keep their mouths shut or lose their pensions.” (Deep pleaded for anonymity; a confidential experience in his NSA years left him in mortal fear of the Clintons.) Whoa.
I suddenly felt like some hapless Hitchcock non-hero who opens the wrong drawing-room door and finds a den filled with opulent thieves, in white tie and tails. Time Warner had already harassed me out of a retaliation suit with the injudicious assistance of Justice Miriam Cedarbaum (Yes, the Martha Stewart judge and my own private Janet Reno).The Justice Department and the FBI then stonewalled me. Fool that I am, I actually thought my colleagues would pounce on such a story. Wrong. Media Blue Wall Law says: No rummaging in the backstage dressing-room of a diva Manhattan editor, especially not with Bill Clinton squinting in the loge.
Surreally, the IRS rang in to threaten me, the whistleblower, with criminal investigation. I accused them of conspiring with Time Warner and the Clinton camp to keep me barefoot and button-lipped. The agency not only backed off, but the Secretary of the Treasury, John Snow, ordered a second inquiry. I’m currently cooperating with CID agents. But I suspect that, not unlike David Barrett, I’ve been invited on a snipe hunt.
So: We have here twin cautionary tales of fraud, corruption, obstruction and cover-up converging on — surprise! — Bill Clinton. It’s the Barrett Report, of course, which begs the most disturbing question: What evil lurks in those 120 pages that made the Democratic congressmen press so hard for redaction? My money says, a den filled with opulent thieves, in white tie and tails.
Mark Goodman, who is currently writing his professional memoir, is the author of “Hurrah for the Next Man Who Dies.”