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Reno, Freeh Face Down House Oversight Committee

By Kathleen Hayden/AllPolitics

freeh reno

WASHINGTON (Dec. 9) -- Hauled before a House committee to answer questions about their very public disagreement over appointing an independent counsel to investigate 1996 campaign fund-raising, Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh downplayed the conflict today as understandable in a complex criminal investigation.

In what he dubbed the "worst-kept secret in Washington," the FBI director confirmed he had recommended in a confidential memo to Reno that she appoint independent counsels to investigate the fund-raising of President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

"I recommended an appointment of an independent counsel to investigate whether crimes may have been committed, but nothing more should be inferred from that recommendation," Freeh told members of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.

Reno stood by her decision not to initiate outside investigations, stressing the investigation was not over. "This decision was mine, and it was based on the facts and the law, and not pressure, politics or any other factor," she said.

Reno and Freeh, who testified separately, refused to detail their specific differences concerning the independent counsel decision. Freeh said, "I'd rather not get into the particulars of what part of the statute I made [my recommendation] on or didn't make it on. It is fair to say that I made my recommendation on more than one basis."

The two defended their joint decision to keep private the memo, even in a censored form, written by Freeh to Reno in which he made his case for independent counsels.

freeh

Reno told the committee that doing so would provide a "road map" of the Justice Department investigation, "jeopardizing our work by tipping off potential targets of our approach and of our analysis of their investigation and would alert them to their status."

Trying to dispel impressions of a split with Freeh, Reno called their working relationship "strong and very amicable." That categorization was echoed by Freeh, who said there was no "professional rift between us."

Calling Freeh an "excellent director of the FBI," Reno said, "I value his judgment. I value his counsel. And we have a strong and very amicable working relationship that I don't think anybody's going to bust up." (416K wav sound)

Freeh returned the compliment, saying, "In the four-and-one-quarter years we have worked together, I have seen her bring nothing but integrity and honesty to the table."

Republicans grill Reno

reno

Reno took most of the day's hostile questioning, primarily from Republicans who opposed her independent-counsel decision, but she remained unflustered, proving a sometimes tolerant, sometimes combative witness.

Committee chairman Dan Burton opened the session with harsh criticism for Reno and her Justice Department investigation, accusing it of working to protect the Clinton White House.

"When our nation's top two law-enforcement officers have such a serious disagreement about a case involving our country's highest elected officials, Congress is compelled to step in and examine the facts," the Indiana Republican said.

Reno countered by saying she welcomed the committee's oversight and would disclose as much as possible during an ongoing investigation.

"I'm not hiding, Mr. Chairman," she told Burton. "I am trying to do my duty under the independent counsel statute and under the law to conduct an investigation in a professional way, taking it wherever it leads me. And I will continue to do so."

Burton doggedly questioned Reno's decision not to call for independent counsels. "The attorney general has stated that her refusal to seek an independent counsel is based on the law and the facts. She is wrong on both counts," he said.

Reno also has a conflict of interest in this case, Burton said. "This has all the appearances of an attorney general protecting the president," he said. "By focusing on the narrow issue of phone calls from the White House, Ms. Reno guaranteed the result of her preliminary inquiry."

Trading barbs

burton

There were several testy, though controlled, exchanges between Burton and Reno as the panel's chairman tried to dive into details of Freeh's memo.

Reno argued that it wasn't necessary, saying, "I'll tell you why the [independent counsel] decision was made."

Burton supplied his own answer: "...Because you wanted to make it and you made it."

"No," the attorney general retorted. "I made the decision because the Congress of the United States provides that it is the attorney general who will make the decision."

In another back-and-forth between the two, the sequence of events surrounding a decision to supply information to the White House came into dispute. Burton said, "I will just tell you that the information we have does not jibe with what you just told us."

Reno's reply: "Well, since you weren't there, I can understand it might not. And since you haven't asked me about it before this and have already reached a judgment, I can understand why it might not."


In Other News:

Tuesday Dec. 9, 1997

Reno, Freeh Face Down House Oversight Committee
Jones Adds New Allegations
FBI's Kallstrom To Retire
Another Batch Of Documents Arrives, Belatedly





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