No Discipline for Justice Spokesman in Rep. Gray Case
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Solicitor General Kenneth Starr on Wednesday supported the attorney general’s decision not to discipline his chief spokesman for confirming to a reporter that there was a criminal investigation involving Rep. William H. Gray III, D-Pa.
Starr agreed with Attorney General Dick Thornburgh’s decision that no disciplinary action against any Justice Department officials was warranted.
Thornburgh recently asked Starr to review the matter after confirming that his chief spokesman, David Runkel, had been a ″secondary source″ of last spring’s CBS News report.
Runkel and Thornburgh’s chief of staff, Robert S. Ross Jr., who were both questioned and given polygraph examinations during an internal investigation of the Gray leak, were reassigned Monday to other jobs in the department in what officials say was an unrelated move.
Justice Department officials have said the that personnel shifts were not related to the Gray leak investigation even though sources say both men showed deception on polygraph tests.
In a statement summarizing his findings, Starr said he ″did not recommend that any disciplinary action be taken against any Department of Justice official.″
The solicitor general also said that ″it was appropriately within the discretion of the attorney general to determine that no disciplinary action of any department official is warranted.″
Thornburgh last month had defended Runkel’s handling of the episode, saying the spokesman was following standing orders not to mislead reporters.
Thornburgh had asked Starr to review the issue after confirming that Runkel had did not steer CBS reporter Rita Braver off information she had obtained elsewhere that the FBI was investigating financial irregularities in Gray’s congressional office.
The CBS report produced a storm of indignation on Capitol Hill, where Gray was seeking election as House majority whip, a post he won. Democratic lawmakers charged that the leak was politically inspired.
The Justice Department was forced to take the unusual step of issuing a statement saying that Gray was not a target of the investigation and was cooperating with the FBI.
Thornburgh, who has made plugging unauthorized leaks a top priority, had ordered a massive criminal investigation to identify the original source of the information. But the Justice Department’s criminal division could not find evidence to prosecute anyone or identify the leaker.
Ten Justice Department officials, including Ross and Runkel, were given polygraph - so-called lie-detector - tests.
Starr noted that ″several individuals experienced difficulties on some aspects of their polygraph examinations.″ Although Starr did not identify those individuals, sources said who spoke on condition of anonymity said Ross and Runkel showed evidence of deception during their polygraph tests.
The deception, however, was shown on tangential questions, said the sources, who spoke on condition that they not be identified.
Starr also said that he identified ″certain concerns of an administrative nature, and reported those concerns to the attorney general.″
Thornburgh ″has taken corrective actions, including procedural changes, in response to those concerns, and the solicitor general has concluded that the matter may be appropriately closed.″
Thornburgh and Starr reported their findings to the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary committees, the department said.
Department spokesman Daniel Eramian declined to detail the administrative changes Start had recommended. Eramian said only that Starr’s report was ″totally unrelated to the personnel changes that took place this week.″
Ross, who had controlled access to Thornburgh, was assigned to organized a new office of international operations before returning to private law practice in several months.
Runkel was named ″communications director″ and will no longer serve as Thornburgh’s spokesman. A search for a new director of public affairs is under way.