FCC Staffer Fired as Probe Ends

WASHINGTON -The Federal Communications Commission has ended its investigation into whether one or more employees improperly disclosed agency merger documents to unauthorized individuals, including reporters at The Washington Post
and The Wall Street Journal.

But the investigation did cost one FCC employee his job in connection with various documents he leaked to a non-media source.

In a Dec. 19 report by the agency's inspector general, the FCC said it was unable to determine whether anyone within the agency gave documents to reporters in connection with three mergers. They included the union of America Online Inc. and Time Warner Inc., which was approved by the FCC in January.

Stories, including one based on an FCC staff "draft," infuriated then-FCC chairman William Kennard and Republican FCC commissioner Michael Powell, who insisted that any leakers caught in the act should be fired.

Kennard asked Inspector General H. Walker Feaster to launch an investigation. Feaster said he interviewed 30 people, including FCC personnel with access to key AOL-Time Warner merger documents. He also interviewed journalists and others outside the agency, but the source of the FCC leaks could not be conclusively identified.

"The investigation is closed. We don't believe we found the source of those leaks to reporters," Feaster said in an interview Tuesday. He added that his probe also covered leaks with regard to AT&T Corp.'s merger with MediaOne Group Inc. and Bell Atlantic Corp's merger with GTE Corp.

A copy of Feaster's two-page report was obtained by Multichannel News
under the Freedom of Information Act.

Feaster's probe revealed that an attorney with the Cable Services Bureau gave AOL-Time Warner merger documents to an outside individual not named in Feaster's report.

Feaster found that the FCC attorney disclosed several non-public documents, including an internal memorandum, a draft of the agency's open- access notice of inquiry, and a draft order pertaining to the AOL-Time Warner merger.

Feaster's report concluded that the FCC attorney leaked the material in violation of agency rules "for the purpose of acquiring input for the aspects of the open-access question and the merger matter upon which he was working."

Feaster said he would not name the FCC employee, but confirmed he was fired. He said the employee did not accept compensation in exchange for the documents.

Four sources familiar with Feaster's probe confirmed the name of the FCC attorney who was fired for leaking. But top FCC spokesman David Fiske said he had to consult with officials to determine whether he could confirm the agency employee's name.