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Republicans Pressure Reno For Independent Counsel

WASHINGTON (March 5) -- As President Bill Clinton called for a Jutice Department investigation into possible influence-peddling by foreign governments, Capitol Hill Republicans were turning up the pressure on the attorney general to appoint an independent counsel.

Lott

At an Oval Office briefing this morning, Clinton was asked if he is satisfied no foreign governments had undue influence on his administration. That was at least in part a reference to reports the Chinese government may have sought to arrange donations to the Democratic Party.

"I want the Justice Department to get to the bottom of it and I expect that they will," Clinton told reporters. (Full Text of President Clinton's Comments)

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) plans to introduce a non-binding resolution urging Attorney General Janet Reno to appoint an independent counsel to investigate the Democrats' fund-raising.

"The law is clear that you should not be raising money on federal property in federal buildings," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott told reporters Tuesday. Democrats have blamed their woes on the campaign finance system, but Lott said, "The system isn't broken, the laws have been broken."

Meanwhile, Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) disclosed plans to recruit the panel's GOP senators to sign a letter to Reno requesting she appoint an independent counsel. She would have 30 days to respond. "I doubt that she'll refuse," Hatch told reporters.

Vice President Al Gore has come under intense criticism in recent days for making direct fund-raising calls from his White House office. On Tuesday, President Bill Clinton defended his vice president, saying the calls were not only legal, but justified in the face of massive campaign fund-raising by Republicans.

"I don't regret the fact that we worked like crazy to raise money to keep from being rolled over by the biggest juggernaut this country had ever seen," Clinton told reporters on Tuesday.

Reno

That so-called Republican juggernaut is now trying to roll over Reno's resistance to seeking an independent counsel.

Lott's planned floor action, which if passed would be non-binding, outraged Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) complained to reporters, "I don't have any better idea then you do as to what his plans are. This is management of the Senate by the seat of your pants. It looks like raw politics to me and I am very deeply disappointed."

As for the Senate investigation headed up by Tennessee Republican Fred Thompson, CNN has learned that Lott will push the Rules Committee later this week to limit its scope.

Thompson wants to probe all aspects of campaign finance activity with an eye toward possible legislation. But there are Republicans who fear some of their own might get sucked into the controversy.

And committee Democrats, who want an investigation of both parties, are requesting 11 subpoenas be served on organizations that traditionally support Republicans, such as the Christian Coalition and the National Right to Life Committee.

Gingrich

Meanwhile, the chairman of the House investigating committee, Dan Burton (R-Ind.), has issued new subpoenas for White House, Justice Department and Democratic Party documents. The committee also has asked the FBI for documents.

Among the records Burton is seeking are documents concerning allegations of Chinese embassy involvement in Democratic fund-raising.

Republicans are trying to leave no stone unturned in their efforts to tie Democrats to scandal. Declared House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), "This is the most systematic, large-scale effort to get around the law that I think we have certainly seen since Watergate, and in its total effort it is much bigger, I think, than Watergate was."

Of course, Gingrich has been having well-publicized ethics problems of his own. But Republicans believe they have Democrats on the run and clearly they're not going to stop chasing them.

CNN's Bob Franken contributed to this report.


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