Janet Rehnquist Under The Microscope

Janet Rehnquist CBS

It's been 17 years since Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist introduced his daughter at his confirmation hearings as Chief Justice.

Now, Janet Rehnquist is herself a powerful - and controversial - figure. In her brief tenure as Inspector General of Health and Human Services she's been accused of influencing investigations for political reasons, using her office for personal gain and leading a bloodletting of senior staffers who disagreed with her methods. She's now the target of three federal investigations.

There have been about 20 major staff changes since Rehnquist came aboard. All six of her deputies have resigned or been forced out. Many of them spoke to CBS News, but said they felt too intimidated to appear on camera.

Rehnquist says she made the staff changes for the good of the organization.

She addressed some of the allegations for the first time in an interview with CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

"I have a record of public service for 14 years in the government in various positions ... no one has ever questioned my integrity," she says.

When she's reminded that people are questioning her integrity now, Rehnquist says: "Well, I stand by my decisions. They're all made in good faith."

One of the most serious charges is that she personally delayed a Florida pension fund audit at Governor Jeb Bush's request.

CBS News obtained documents showing that last April, the Governor's chief of staff Kathleen Shanahan left Rehnquist an urgent message and asked her to put off the audit. Rehnquist quickly ordered a two-week delay.

Two weeks stretched into five months, after Rehnquist told her audit team to "proceed with (an) audit in North Carolina first, then do Florida."

Several sources tell CBS News it was politics.

"The Florida audit might have finished before the November election and could have proven embarrassing (to Governor Bush)," said one source. The delays ensured it couldn't be done until after the election.

When asked if she's concerned that that may appear inappropriate if not be inappropriate, Rehnquist replied: "It was unusual to receive a call like that, but I answer the phone when people call. I think it was an ordinary request and I handled it the way I thought was best at the time."

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, is leading one investigation into the inspector general's conduct.

"Their job is number one to look out for the taxpayers and not to make any political judgements in anything they do," Grassley said.

With Rehnquist accused of the same misconduct she's supposed to investigate in others, the biggest casualty may be the credibility of her office, which had been considered one of the best inspector general shops around.
  • Jaime Holguin

Comments

Follow Us