Sources: Freeh asked Reno to recuse herself from Democratic fund-raising probe
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As early as December 1996, FBI Director Louis Freeh urged Attorney
General Janet Reno and another senior Justice Department official to recuse themselves from
overseeing allegations of Democratic fund-raising abuses -- much earlier than previously
known -- senior government sources tell CNN.
According to these sources, Freeh's initial request came after one of his
top aides, Bill Esposito, informed him of a conversation Esposito allegedly had
with Lee Radek, head of the department's Public Integrity section. Esposito claimed that
Radek informed him that he felt pressure and that the alleged scandal could cost Reno her job.
The alleged conversation supposedly took place during the time when
President Bill Clinton was deliberating over whether to ask Reno to return as
attorney general for his second term, the sources said.
After Freeh's discussion with Esposito, the FBI director raised the
matter with the attorney general who allegedly said she would look into it.
During that conversation, Freeh told Reno he thought she and Radek had a
conflict of interest and should remove themselves from the probe.
Freeh then fired off a memo to Esposito informing him he had discussed the
matter with Reno and recommended she and Radek recuse themselves.
The Freeh memo was provided this week to Senate investigators, the sources
Thursday night, Radek denied the accusations, issuing the following
statement: "I have no recollection of ever having said I was pressured because
the attorney general's job might hang in the balance -- nor is it something I
would have said because there is no basis for it."
As head of public integrity, Radek played a key role in recommending
whether there should be an independent counsel on campaign finance. He
generally rejected such calls.
It has been widely reported that Freeh had wanted an independent counsel
to investigate the alleged fund-raising abuses, largely on grounds that there
was a conflict of interest for Reno and other Justice officials in overseeing
the probe. Freeh wrote one memo in 1997 detailing his concerns.