WASHINGTON -- A federal judge has agreed to a request by lawyers for Mike Espy to limit an independent counsel's investigation into accusations against the former secretary of agriculture.
And in a separate action, one of the companies that has become embroiled in the investigation, Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale, Ark., has asked Attorney General Janet Reno to dismiss the independent counsel on the ground that he overstepped his legal authority.
The independent counsel, Donald C. Smaltz, was appointed in September by a three-judge panel to determine whether Mr. Espy violated the law by accepting football tickets, free travel and other gifts from companies, including Tyson Foods, that pTC were regulated by the Department of Agriculture.
But lawyers for Mr. Espy and for Tyson Foods, the nation's largest poultry processor, have complained that Mr. Smaltz has expanded his investigation into political and corporate matters that are well beyond the original extent of his legal jurisdiction.
White House officials have also complained about Mr. Smaltz's sweeping approach to the case.
Mr. Smaltz, 57, a Los Angeles lawyer whose legal practice has centered on white-collar criminal defense cases, has issued more than 50 subpoenas in a wide-ranging investigation. He has acknowledged that he was examining the Clinton administration's relationship with Tyson Foods and the company's global operations.
Earlier this year, Mr. Espy's lawyers asked a federal judge to quash 10 of the subpoenas issued by Mr. Smaltz, arguing that he had overstepped his legal authority by asking for information unrelated to the central charges against Mr. Espy.
Legal officials involved in the case said yesterday that Judge John Garrett Penn, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, issued sealed orders last month to quash or to significantly limit several of the subpoenas.
Mr. Espy's primary lawyer, Reid Weingarten, said he could not comment on the case, or confirm or deny reports about Judge Penn's actions.
Citing unidentified sources, the Legal Times, a Washington-based weekly newspaper serving the legal profession, said Judge Penn had agreed with the defense contention that certain documents and testimony sought by Mr. Smaltz fell outside the scope of his inquiry.
Tyson Foods stepped up its attacks on Mr. Smaltz and his investigation about three weeks ago when one of its lawyers, Thomas C. Green, wrote Ms. Reno to ask that the independent counsel be dismissed.
In the letter, Mr. Green accused the independent counsel of showing "indefatigable contempt for the constitutional limitations on his investigations" and asserted that those actions had produced "the rare case in which removal is appropriate."
A spokesman for Tyson Foods, Archie Schaffer III, confirmed that the letter had been sent June 12 to the attorney general and that the company had asked for Mr. Smaltz's dismissal.