Panel Says No To Expanded Espy Probe
By Terry Frieden/CNN
WASHINGTON (June 12) -- The independent counsel investigating former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy was rebuffed Friday in his bid to expand his ongoing probe.
A three-judge panel rejected the request from prosecutor Donald Smaltz who sought additional authority because he has "uncovered evidence of other serious violations of law by Secretary Espy and others close to him."
The opinion by the panel,which oversees all independent counsel investigations, did not specify what violations Smaltz believed he had uncovered. The ruling did, however, make clear the Justice Department had opposed granting Smaltz the expanded jurisdiction.
The opinion declared it would not disclose the nature of the "allegations of criminal activity on the part of Espy and others," which had been laid out in a secret filing by Smaltz.
The court's opinion represents a reversal of fortunes for Smaltz who won a similar request from the panel last year, despite objections from the Justice Department.
Smaltz was appointed after Attorney General Janet Reno concluded a special prosecutor was needed to investigate allegations that Espy received illegal gifts from private firms regulated by Espy's Agriculture Department. But the prolonged investigation has led to public feuding between Smaltz and Justice officials who think the probe has gone too far.
In its opinion rejecting Smaltz's latest request, the court Friday said his new allegations were not "sufficiently demonstrably related to the initial grant of jurisdiction" he had been given. The court also said it agreed with the attorney general's arguments that the new jurisdiction sought by Smaltz exceeds the court's constitutionally limited authority.
The court revealed only that Smaltz wanted to investigate "misconduct by a high official and the potential presence of eight unnamed common witnesses." But the court concluded that the facts "do not involve any alleged misuse of the office of Secretary of Agriculture by Espy."