WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Congressional investigators say that they suspect one or more top aides to White House Chief of Staff James A. Baker III did not tell the truth in the inquiry over the State Department's handling of Bill Clinton's passport file, and said that they plan to pursue the issue in a probe that may take several months.
The investigators said yesterday that members of Congress have asked the General Accounting Office, Congress's investigative arm, to examine apparent conflicts in accounts of the affair given by White House Communications Director Margaret D. Tutwiler and White House Political Director Janet G. Mullins for a report expected in January.
After that, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee may subpoena witnesses and hold hearings, they said.
Democrats in Congress said that the State Department inspector general's report on the passport case, issued Wednesday, failed to resolve all their questions about the affair.
"There is a question as to how effective his investigation was," said Rep. Howard L. Berman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on international operations. "He said he found no evidence of White House involvement . . . but it certainly appears that there was White House knowledge."
A congressional investigator who was drafting a formal request to the GAO said the accounts given by Mr. Baker's aides had become a central focus of the Democrats' interest.
"They [the Baker aides] contradict each other, and the inspector general's report doesn't resolve that contradiction," he said. "It was a White House problem, and the inspector general didn't have the jurisdiction to resolve it. As a result, his report leaves as many unanswered questions as answered ones."
An aide to Inspector General Sherman Funk acknowledged that his internal inquest had failed to explain the apparent conflicts between the accounts of Ms. Tutwiler and Ms. Mullins. "I don't think we can resolve that," the aide said.
The Department of Justice was also considering an investigation of that aspect of the affair, a department official said.
Mr. Baker, Ms. Tutwiler and Ms. Mullins have all refused to comment on the report. If the Democrats pursue the questions, however, the affair could turn into an embarrassment for Mr. Baker, President Bush's closest adviser and a man who has been mentioned as a potential 1996 Republican presidential candidate.
A key incident at issue is a telephone call to the White House on the evening of Sept. 30, as State Department officials were looking for Mr. Clinton's passport file in a search that Mr. Funk determined was politically motivated.