Whitewater prosecutor to look into 'Travelgate'

March 22, 1996
Web posted at: 8:45 p.m. EST

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The special prosecutor investigating the Whitewater real estate venture was authorized Friday to also explore whether a former White House aide was lying about Hillary Clinton's role in firing the presidential travel office staffers.


Attorney General Janet Reno made the request for handing over the so-called Travelgate investigation to independent counsel Kenneth Starr, and a special three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals immediately approved it.

Court documents released by the Justice Department show Reno requested that Starr expand his Whitewater investigation to include an examination of whether Watkins broke any federal laws when he was interviewed by the General Accounting Office investigators.

Hillary Clinton

The GAO, an arm of Congress, questioned Watkins in December 1993 about events that led to the travel office firings several months earlier.

At issue were Watkins' statements to congressional investigators in which he denied being under pressure from Mrs. Clinton to fire the staff members. But in a memo that was discovered later and in notes written between May and June of 1993, Watkins said he considered himself to be under "irresistible" pressure from Mrs. Clinton to carry out the dismissals.

In the memo, Watkins also said "there would be hell to pay" from Mrs. Clinton if the travel office staff was not dismissed, raising questions about the accuracy of what he told congressional investigators.

Reno said in her statement to the court that Starr had told her he had already begun to look into the travel office matter while inquiring into the death of former White House lawyer Vince Foster. She said Starr has relied on the Watkins memo and notes as "primary evidence" of possible false statements involving the travel office affair.

It would therefore be appropriate to expand Starr's investigation to determine whether Watkins lied in his interview with investigators from the GAO, Reno said.

The travel office staff was fired in May 1993 for alleged mishandling of reporters' travel money.

Mrs. Clinton has said repeatedly that she was not involved in the travel office firings.

Starr was named in 1994 to probe violations of federal criminal law relating to the Clintons' ties to the failed Whitewater Development Corp.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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