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Babbitt Allegations Trigger Independent Counsel Law

Reno confirms she began an initial inquiry on Oct. 14

By Terry Frieden/CNN


WASHINGTON (Oct. 30) -- Attorney General Janet Reno today confirmed she has opened an initial inquiry of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt under the requirements of the Independent Counsel law. Reno said the 30-day review of allegations regarding Babbitt's handling of a casino application began Oct. 14.

"The first issue is, is there specific and credible evidence?" Reno told reporters.

Under the Independent Counsel statute, if the Justice Department concludes that an allegation against a cabinet official is specific and credible, she must then launch a 90-day investigation to determine whether an independent counsel should be appointed.

At issue in Babbitt's case is whether his decision to deny three Indian tribes' casino application was influenced by political contributions, and whether he was truthful when he denied having conversations with political operatives on the issue.

When asked whether Babbitt's denial of such discussions in a letter to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is being investigated, Reno said "I would not comment on it."

Reno did say the task force will determine during the 30-day period whether the Justice Department has an internal conflict of interest relating to the Babbitt inquiry. The department's Civil Division is defending the Interior Department against a lawsuit by the Indian tribes denied the casino, claiming political interference in the decision. At the same time the Criminal Division is attempting to determine whether there may have been such influence in the decision.

Reno also confirmed an independent counsel investigation had been opened and closed in secret during the past year without charges being filed. Justice Department sources say former White House aide Eli Segal was cleared by a still-unidentified independent counsel of unspecified charges.

Reno said the brief probe was not announced because it had not been reported publicly. "Our general practice in the Department of Justice is not to comment on investigations, so a person for whom an independent counsel was sought should not be in any different position except in special circumstances. And if the investigation was not known to the public that would indicate then that there would be no basis for disclosing it."

Reno said she supports the secrecy policy. "If you are on to some leads that are very fragile and can be tremendously impacted by public knowledge of the investigation, I don't think it's in the public interests to disclose it," she said.

In Other News:

Thursday Oct. 30, 1997

Lobbyist Says Babbitt Talked About Campaign Contributions
Jiang Visits With Capitol Hill Lawmakers
Babbitt Allegations Trigger Independent Counsel Law
Reno To Question Chinese Offical About Fund-Raising

Clinton, Gore Approval Ratings Move Up

E-mail From Washington:
Deal Struck To Debate Campaign Reform Again
House Fund-Raising Hearings To Resume Next Week
White House Cautiously Optimistic On Fast Track

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