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Reno Defends Independent Counsel Decision

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Transcript Of Janet Reno's Press Briefing

Dec. 4, 1997

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

QUESTION: ... explain in some detail the reasoning behind the decisions that you announced on Tuesday. We would also like the FBI director to comment.

Do you plan to testify on Capitol Hill next week? And do you know if the director does?

RENO: As I've always said, I very much appreciate and respect the oversight function of Congress and want very much to be there. I expect that I will. I am hopeful that I can work out with the committee a previous commitment that I have.

We have a meeting of the -- what was formally known as G-7 and has now become the eight -- of the major industrialized nations and their ministers of justice who are coming to Washington for a meeting. I have meetings scheduled with a number of those ministers Tuesday afternoon.

So I hope that we can work with the committee in developing a schedule that will respect the oversight function and permit me to honor these commitments.

QUESTION: Well, Ms. Reno, are you planning to go up in the morning...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the high praise you gave a few minutes ago of Director Freeh and your confidence in him, were you at all disturbed or concerned that the White House didn't do the same thing, that Mr. McCurry stopped well short of expressing any presidential confidence in the FBI director?

RENO: I'm not clear on what Mr. McCurry has said. All I can say is what I feel very strongly.

QUESTION: You didn't have any discussions concerning his comments?

RENO: No, I haven't.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, are you satisfied -- could you tell me -- you said that you did not find any evidence, any aggravating circumstances like coercion that would have triggered prosecution under the Pendleton Act because of the vice president's calls. Yet, there was a donor who told The Washington Post that he felt pressured, pressured by the phone call and subsequently gave $100,000. Did you not find anybody who fit that profile?

RENO: Again, we have presented all the evidence that is specific and credible in our notification. I think it speaks for itself.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, if you...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) that investigation was not thorough enough?

RENO: Excuse me?

QUESTION: I'm sorry. At different times here you said that some of the law involving campaign functions is unclear, complex, it's not always obvious what constitutes a criminal violation. Could you tell us where you are in resolving those questions and what process you're using to determine what constitutes criminal violations in areas of campaign law where there is no previous prosecution?

RENO: We're in the process again of -- as I have indicated previously -- of trying to pursue the allegations that have been raised. I am in discussion, reading memorandum, looking at how we best should proceed, consulting with the people, including Director Freeh and the lawyers and the task force.

I want to make sure that we take into account every consideration. I can't tell you what direction I'm going in. But I can tell you that process.

QUESTION: Well, just one statement. Are you looking at -- is this process a matter of looking at specific facts and then holding that against the law, or are you looking at the law broadly on questions like coordination in trying to reach a broad abstract decision of what might constitute a criminal violation as opposed to a factual one?

RENO: What I am trying to do is to avoid abstract concepts, because in determining whether somebody should be prosecuted who is not a covered person or in determining whether the independent counsel statute is triggered, it is inappropriate, I think, to deal in concepts and abstracts -- abstract theories. I think it is important that you look at the evidence and the law.

But what we're trying to do is to make sure that we look at the evidence and the law in the broadest possible fashion to make sure that we leave no stone unturned, and we will continue to do that.

I continue to hear from people. I continue to get different thoughts on how we should proceed based on the evidence as it develops, and we are going to continue to review this in the careful, thorough way that I think has been done to date.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) consider the conspiracy theory, then, the notion of pursuing this matter as a conspiracy to violate campaign laws, essentially an abstract concept?

RENO: What I need to do is to look at specific allegations of specific violations of the law. A conspiracy has to be a conspiracy to violate specific laws, and we need to take the evidence that we developed and look at it and see where it takes us, and we're going to continue to do that.

QUESTION: Is that approach that you just outlined any different than would be used in any other conspiracy or any other federal prosecution? Or is it -- do you believe in this case it has to be extra rigorous?

RENO: I think obviously in this case the American people expect me to be rigorous, to be careful, to be thorough, and I'm going to try my best to meet their expectations.

But one of the things that is important to note is this -- you asked the question, is this the way you conduct a usual investigation? There is no such thing, I think, as a usual investigation. And there may be situations where you come at something from one way or as another. But what we're trying to do is work together, develop investigative plans, hear people out when there's disagreement and move forward in the most effective manner possible.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) ... since announcing your decision?

RENO: No, I haven't.

QUESTION: No, you haven't.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, could I get a question in here please?

RENO: You sure can.

QUESTION: Thank you.

RENO: Yes, you got -- Beverly got your seat.

QUESTION: Oh, I've got a cold. I've got a miserable cold.

RENO: So you're giving it to everybody over near your chair?

QUESTION: Trying not to give it to you.

RENO: Thank you.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, given the evidence produced by the preliminary investigation, do you believe you have the authority under the law as it's written (OFF-MIKE) you have the authority under the law as it's written to seek an independent counsel?

QUESTION: In other words, did you have wiggle room to go one way or the other?

RENO: When you have wiggle room -- I'm not quite sure what that means, but what I have tried to do is to say, what does the law dictate in this situation, and I've tried to follow what I understand the law to be.

I don't think I had the authority to go the other way.

QUESTION: You said you're still receiving different views and you're still trying to develop an investigative plan. Is your strategy in flux now?

RENO: No, it is -- as I have indicated, all along as we develop evidence, as we develop -- for example, somebody may have a new idea about the law. I'm not trying not to foreclose and put blinders on when people write about new suggestions or new ways that the law can be construed.

I want to make sure that I consider everything, that I move carefully, thoroughly and appropriately in considering how we proceed. No investigation remains static. It is always in a state of flux, and we want to move this forward as promptly as possible, consistent with doing it thoroughly.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, why...

QUESTION: Since your decision...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) you have a conflict interest, as was argued to you, why do you reject the notion that the conflict of interest would require you to seek the independent counsel?

RENO: Under the independent counsel statute, the statute presumes that there is a conflict between the president, for example, and the attorney general if the attorney general were investigating the president.

But the act specifically provides that before you trigger something, you've got to make sure that you have specific and credible information that a covered person may have violated the law.

RENO: I am trying to follow the independent counsel statute as it has been framed by Congress. If you had a lower threshold, then any time somebody said move about a covered person, you'd trigger the independent counsel statute.

Congress has provided for a threshold and has presumed a conflict when that threshold is met.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding, then, that -- some people in Congress say that the decision about whether there is specific and credible evidence ought to be made outside the Justice Department.

But is what your understanding of the law is that you don't have the authority to pitch it to an independent counsel until you make that decision of specific and credible evidence? No one else can make that?

RENO: That's as I understand the law.

QUESTION: And to follow up...

RENO: You -- you had a question.

QUESTION: I think...

RENO: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Oh, thank you very much. Yes, ma'am. It's the issue of the House, of Justice -- the Department of Justice -- divided, the Congress divided, the calls of foul play by the Republicans. What do you say to those that -- your critics or critics of this matter -- that say that the interest of foul play -- excuse me -- the interest of fair play are not being served by your decision?

RENO: What I have said is that I try not to listen to the politics. I try to listen to people who have ideas, ideas that cover a whole range of positions with respect to how we should proceed.

I try to listen to them, I try to read, and then I try to do one thing, what's right. As I've said before, Harry Truman said, "Doing the right thing is easy; knowing what the right thing to do is much more difficult."

And in this process, I have tried to listen, to read, to understand, to apply the law, to make sure I understand the evidence, and that's what I know that I've tried to do.

And those that say otherwise haven't been with me every step of the way of these last several weeks.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, aside from what the FBI director, Freeh, recommended, were any of your advisers within the Justice Department in favor of seeking an independent counsel?

RENO: As I've indicated previously, I don't think I should talk about what my advisers say, otherwise they're going to clam up and say -- next thing I know Bev Lumpkin (ph) is going to be asking me about what I said or did. And that's not the kind of chilling effect that I want on what people are going to be telling me.

I can tell you that I have gotten a whole range of ideas, suggestions, positions, thoughts, as we have pursued them. We continue to pursue them. We answer some. New ones develop. And we have tried to pursue it as thoughtfully as possible, listening to everybody.

Copyright © 1997 Federal Document Clearing House


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