In a rare interview with an active independent counsel, Donald
Smaltz takes FRONTLINE inside his investigation of former Agriculture
Secretary Mike Espy. FRONTLINE correspondent Peter Boyer steps behind the
current controversy about Kenneth Starr to find out what these independent
counsels really want, how far they'll go to get it, and why they cost so
Smaltz is examining charges that Espy received various illegal gratuities from
Arkansas's Tyson Foods and
other companies regulated by his agency. So far, Smaltz's
nearly four-year-long investigation has produced a thirty-nine count indictment
against Espy and criminal convictions or pleas from ten individuals and
Following Smaltz's trail through the Espy case,
Boyer's report offers
Smaltz's defense of his strategy and tactics. It also lays out the views of
critics and those caught up in the investigation. When
Smaltz sought to widen his probe into other alleged criminal wrongdoing by
Tyson Foods (specifically,that the company had sent money to then-governor
Bill Clinton) the targets of his investigation fought him, as did the
Department of Justice. Tyson lawyer Tom Green accused Smaltz of being
out of control and wrote a letter to Attorney General Reno
requesting he be removed. Smaltz charges that Tyson had been able to pressure the
Smaltz again ran into opposition from the Justice Department when he turned to
Mike Espy and his chief of staff, Ronald Blackley.
Boyer examines the controversial case against Blackley and whether or not it
demonstrates the excesses and dangers of special
prosecutors and their prosecutorial techniques.
The program concludes with the reflections of Sam Dash. He was chief
counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee and argues that the independent
counsel is the only alternative when serious charges are brought against
high executive officials. The public, says Dash, wouldn't trust
the executive branch of government to fully and fairly investigate itself.
However, in 1998 public opinion has turned against the office; many feel
the case against the institution of the independent counsel is nearly won.
Congress is expected to begin considering the fate of the independent
counsel statute this year.