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Cisneros inquiry concludes bitterly

Justice Dept., IRS fire back at counsel

WASHINGTON -- More than a decade and $21 million after it began, the longest-running independent counsel investigation in US history ended yesterday with allegations from the prosecutor that ''a coverup at high levels of our government" prevented him from bringing further charges in the case of former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros.

In a 474-page report, independent counsel David Barrett conceded that he was ''not able to say with certainty whether any criminal laws were broken" by government officials in his inquiry of possible tax violations by Cisneros. But he alleged that officials in the Justice Department and IRS ''resisted our efforts to investigate" the possibilities. The report itself does not appear to include clear evidence of obstruction, however.

Numerous officials named in the probe angrily denied Barrett's accusations in rebuttals attached to the document.

''Mr. Barrett conjured up a far-fetched theory of a wide-reaching government conspiracy to justify prolonging his tenure for another six years," wrote Susan Park, a trial attorney in the Justice Department's public integrity section.

The probe began in May 1995, after Cisneros's former mistress, Linda Medlar, accused him of lying to the FBI about money he gave her. Cisneros was eventually indicted on 18 felony charges but pleaded guilty in 1999 to a single misdemeanor of making false statements. He paid a $10,000 fine and was later pardoned by President Bill Clinton.

Barry Finkelstein, who had been assistant IRS chief counsel of criminal tax matters, said in a comment letter that ''cases involving politically sensitive targets have always, in practice, been reviewed by the head office of the Office of Chief Counsel in Washington."

In the case of Cisneros, ''although it was determined that his [tax] returns were not accurate, the case did not meet the required standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt," Finkelstein said.

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