Reno Considers Staff Advice Against Independent Counsels
By Pierre Thomas/CNN
WASHINGTON (Nov. 24) -- With the political tension rising, Attorney General Janet Reno has begun mulling over staff recommendations not to seek independent counsel investigations of President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.
Reno is traveling to Mexico this week and could delay her decision until closer to a Dec. 2 deadline. But on the question of Clinton's fund-raising phone calls, Justice Department attorneys are recommending no independent counsel. For Gore on the same issue, the same recommendation: No.
Reno will also decide whether to appoint an independent counsel for former Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary. The answer concerning bribery allegations against O'Leary is less certain. Some Justice officials are leaning against recommending an independent counsel probe of her; others aren't sure.
Reno may accept, reject or amend her staff's recommendations, although she generally follows their suggestions. Whatever she does -- particularly if she fails to seek a special investigation of Clinton or Gore -- Reno will come under fire.
Typical criticism comes from Larry Klayman, general counsel of conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch.
"The Justice Department is now in a state where the American people no longer believe that it's representing the American people but it's representing the Clinton Administration," Klayman told CNN. "It's become effectively the law firm of the president and vice president."
Reno has heard the attacks before. Her response is always the same.
"I'm going to do it based on what I think is right," she told Congress earlier this fall, "based on the evidence, the law and the independent counsel statute."
Should Reno accept her staff's advice, however, she may set up a conflict with FBI Director Louis Freeh, who has privately held for some time that there should be an independent investigation of alleged campaign finance violations.
If Freeh makes known his private feelings, he will undermine Reno. If he remains silent, he will have to watch the FBI be criticized along with the Justice Department.
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Monday Nov. 24, 1997
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