Departing Chief Fund-Raising Investigator May Recommend Independent Counsel
By Pierre Thomas/CNN
WASHINGTON (June 29) -- Attorney General Janet Reno could be facing yet another explosive decision as law enforcement sources tell CNN they fully expect Charles LaBella, the outgoing chief of the Justice Department campaign finance investigation, to urge Reno to seek an independent counsel.
LaBella, who is leaving his post shortly, is preparing a final report. His recommendation to Reno is expected within weeks.
If LaBella pushes for an independent counsel it will likely reignite Republican calls for Reno to act that were so intense just a few months ago.
Law enforcement sources say LaBella is expected to argue that key Democrats and White House officials conspired to break campaign finance laws during the 1996 presidential campaign. The goal of the alleged conspiracy: reelect President Bill Clinton, Reno's boss.
Sources say LaBella thinks there is clearly an appearance of a conflict of interest by the attorney general. LaBella's argument is similar to one offered by FBI Director Louie Freeh, who continues to maintain there is a need for an outside investigation.
LaBella has lobbied for an independent counsel once before, arguing there was a need to investigate fund-raising phone calls by Vice President Al Gore. Reno has previously rejected all those arguments.
For that reason, some sources predict she will reject any calls for a new independent counsel barring dramatic new evidence. But then again they say, predicting what Reno will do is risky.
But there is another camp within the Justice Department that thinks there is no need for an outside investigation. They say there's not much evidence to support claims of a Democratic conspiracy. Sources say they might have been sloppy, but not necessarily criminal.
LaBella is leaving Justice to become interim U.S. attorney in San Diego. Federal prosecutor David Vicinanzo of New Hampshire will take over as the new head of the Justice campaign finance task force.s