Clinton probes up in air

Friday, November 23, 2001

NEW YORK -- U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White's caseload is like no other, with secret investigations of top political figures, the nation's largest police department and most-wanted terrorists.

But White announced last week that by year's end she would leave the job of top federal prosecutor in Manhattan. Her departure raises questions about how and when those cases will conclude, including a probe into then-President Clinton's last-minute pardons.

Senior Democrats have seized on the announcement to suggest federal authorities close investigations targeting Clinton, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Robert Torricelli.

But other observers insist the probes can go on without White -- and could still result in indictments.

Known as a no-nonsense, apolitical supervisor, White "may want some resolution before her term ends," said Matthew Fishbein, White's former chief deputy. Federal officials had no comment on who would replace her.

"But this is an office where U.S. attorneys come and go and the work continues," Fishbein added.

Attorney General John Ashcroft decided in March that White would stay on as a rare Democratic holdover in the Bush administration, citing the importance of her ongoing investigations.

Terrorism cases

White has been the nation's top prosecutor of terrorism cases in the past decade, winning convictions in the 1993 bombing of World Trade Center, a plot to blow up New York landmarks in 1995, and the attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa earlier this year. More prosecutions were expected.

She also convened a grand jury to hear new evidence in Osama bin Laden's alleged role in the attack the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11.

But White's her role was marginalized when Ashcroft put his assistant in charge of the investigation. The New York grand jury in the Sept. 11 terrorism case has publicly filed only one indictment, charging a student from Jordan with lying to the FBI about his relationship with a suicide hijacker.

In her announcement, White said she expected "an orderly transition of pending matters."

Those include the criminal investigation of former President Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, the ex-husband of a Democratic fund-raiser, and his commutation of the sentences of four swindlers from a Hasidic community that overwhelmingly backed Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate bid.

The Clintons, who say they are innocent, have not commented on White's departure. But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle argued it should end the scrutiny of his Senate colleagues, including Torricelli, a New Jersey Democrat suspected of taking illegal gifts and cash from a donor.

"It's time to bring it to a close, and perhaps this might serve as a catalyst to do just that," Daschle said.

White also began investigating allegations of racial profiling by the NYPD in 1999 following the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed black man.

The separate grand jury inquiries of Clinton and Torricelli were reportedly winding down before Sept. 11, when the attacks shifted attention away from the probes -- until White announced her departure.

But Fishbein cautioned against thinking his former boss will go quietly.

With secret proceedings, "You can't assume anything," he said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: