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CQ Special Report: Campaign Finance (4/9/97)

Reno Calls White House-FBI Dispute A Misunderstanding (3/12/97)

Reno: Independent Counsel Not Needed Yet (2/27/97)

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Reno Spurns Demands For Special Prosecutor

Next move is up to congressional Republicans

Reno

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, April 14) -- Attorney General Janet Reno has once again spurned requests for a special prosecutor, turning aside Republican demands for an independent probe into Democratic campaign fund-raising excesses during the 1996 presidential campaign.

In a series of five letters to members of the House and Senate Judiciary commitees today, the Justice Department said its investigation has not found "specific and credible evidence" that a crime has been committed by an individual covered by the independent counsel statute.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) signed by Reno, the attorney general said of the ongoing Justice Department probe: "This task force is pursuing the investigation vigorously and diligently, and it will continue to do so. I can assure you that I have given your views and your arguments careful thought but at this time, I am unable to agree, based on the facts and the law that an indpendent counsel should be appointed to handle this investigation."

The responses also said the Justice Department task force investigation does not represent a conflict of interest, which could also trigger that law requiring an outside prosecutor.

Monday was the deadline for Reno to respond to requests from Republican members of the House and Senate judiciary committees to appoint a special prosecutor. She had turned down three earlier requests, saying her own department and the FBI can fairly investigate the charges.

In the three previous rejections of requests to seek an independent counsel, Justice Department letters have emphasized that if the task force uncovers information triggering the independent counsel statute, the attorney general would act promptly.

Anticipating the decision, House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested over the weekend that if Reno said no, he would ask the House Judiciary Committee to launch an investigation of Reno herself.

That brought a quick response from White House Press Secretary Michael McCurry on Monday.

"She [Reno] has to make a decision based on the law and based on the facts, and not based on politics," McCurry said. "And we would hope the speaker would consider taking the same approach."

Justice Department officials told CNN they are pursuing a thorough probe, with or without an independent counsel. They cite the department's aggresive prosecution of former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski as proof the department's career lawyers can successfully manage a politically sensitive investigation.

One high-ranking Justice Department official said, "What makes anyone think that just because there's not an independent counsel, there's not a serious investigation going on?"

Senate Judicary Commitee chairman Hatch, before Reno's decision, urged her to call for at least a preliminary investigation. Hatch said he had "a lot of confidence" in her, but predicted a public outcry if she did not move forward.

"If she doesn't at least call for a preliminary investigation over the next three months and/or call for an independent counsel, it's going to be highly criticized and rightly so because not only is there specific credible evidence, but there is an apparent conflict of interest ... " Hatch said on CNN's "Inside Politics."

Asked about the conflict, Hatch said, "You have squabbles between the FBI and the presidency. You've got memoranda showing that these people were abusing the fund-raising process. You have the White House being used. You have calls being made from the White House. You have indications that foreign people were trying to gain access not only to the White House but to gain influence in both domestic and foreign policy.

"You've got all kinds of raising of so-called 'soft money' which may not be 'soft money,' and only an independent counsel is going to be able to determine that," the Utah Republican said. "You now have an attorney general saying she is relying on career prosecutors, when the buck stops there."

Reno is a Clinton appointee, but she has previously exhibited an independent streak by approving four special prosecutors during the first Clinton term.

Three of those investigations involved Cabinet officials, and the fourth, Kenneth Starr's vigorous look inside the Whitewater affair, involves Clinton himself and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Reno's detractors may see political reasons behind her reluctance to appoint a special prosecutor this time, but her defenders insist that Reno has maintained the appropriate level of independence from the White House.

"She has loyalties to issues but not people," said Michael Zeldin, a dormer Justice Department lawyer and deputy independent counsel. "She's not an inner-circle Clinton person. She remains outside that and therefore independent."

CNN's Terry Frieden and Wolf Blitzer contributed to this report.


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