Leahy Asks GAO, Justice to Probe Ray's Conduct

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The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee wants the Justice Department and the General Accounting Office to investigate whether former independent counsel Robert W. Ray engaged in improper political activities while in office.

Mr. Ray is now a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in New Jersey.

In letters to Attorney General John Ashcroft and GAO Comptroller General David Walker, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, questioned whether Mr. Ray interviewed consultants and staff, and lined up financial backers while still employed as the chief prosecutor in the $70 million Whitewater investigation.

"The available information warrants a formal investigation of Mr. Ray's conduct," Mr. Leahy said, adding that rules governing the conduct of federal prosecutors were designed to "ensure that the decisions they reach are based entirely and impartially on the evidence and the law, and to avoid undermining public confidence in our nation's justice system."

Mr. Ray, who resigned as independent counsel on March 12 after three years on the job, announced last week he would join the field of Republican candidates vying to challenge Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat.

He denies doing anything improper and has accused Mr. Leahy of participating in "the very worst of the partisan political politics that dominates Washington."

Mr. Leahy, in his letter to Mr. Ashcroft, said it was "widely understood" when Mr. Ray assumed office in October 1999 that he was committed to seeing it through to its completion, but he resigned 10 days before a final report was issued on March 20.

He said Mr. Ray was "quietly taking steps for at least the past two months to mount a bid for the Republican nomination for the Senate, and that he had already begun to lay the groundwork even before wrapping up his official duties" as independent counsel.

Mr. Leahy said Mr. Ray, while still in office, met with the chairman of the New Jersey Republican Party, along with fund-raisers as early as the beginning of January. …