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 Attorney General Janet Reno's Weekly Briefing (07-23-98)

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Reno Aide Recommends Independent Campaign Finance Probe

LaBella's report could reignite the controversy; Rep. Burton plans a July 30 hearing

By Pierre Thomas/CNN

WASHINGTON (July 23) -- A Justice Department official confirmed to CNN that outgoing campaign finance task force head Charles LaBella has sent a report for Attorney General Janet Reno's review recommending she seek an independent counsel to investigate allegations of fund-raising abuses by senior Democratic officials.

Charles LaBella

LaBella's push for an independent counsel is likely to reignite Republican calls for Reno to act.

Law enforcement sources say LaBella's report argues that evidence indicates that key Democrats and White House officials conspired to break campaign finance laws during the last presidential campaign. The goal of the alleged conspiracy was to re-elect President Bill Clinton, Reno's boss.

Sources say LaBella believes there is clearly an appearance of a conflict of interest by the attorney general.

At her regular weekly briefing for news reporters, Reno said she is reviewing LaBella's report, but has not reached any conclusions yet.

Attorney General Janet Reno

"There are a range of lawyers within the department who have had long experience with the Independent Counsel Act," Reno said. "And what we do is hear from everybody, not just one lawyer, but everybody. And we make sure that we try to consider all arguments, and reach the best decision based on the history of the act, the legislative history and other factors. And that's what we will do in this situation."

Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asked the Justice Department for a copy of LaBella's report.

Through a spokeswoman, Hatch said he does not think Reno can ignore the recommendations of the outgoing head of the Justice Department's campaign finance inquiry. Hatch indicated he has not seen the report, but it is consistent with a briefing LaBella provided to him and Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson a few months ago.

Sen. Orrin Hatch

And in another development, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) said his House Government Reform and Oversight Committee will hold a hearing July 30 on Reno's failure so far to appoint an independent counsel.

By not yet acting, Burton said, Reno has "egregiously shirked her duty." "The three most senior people in the investigation who have the greatest knowledge of the facts, reportedly have all come to the conclusion that an independent counsel is necessary in this case," Burton said in a written statement.

"Both (FBI) Director Freeh and Mr. LaBella reportedly have noted that the Attorney General has misread the independent counsel law," Burton said. "It is clear that it is only Ms. Reno's political appointees who are standing in the way of the appointment of the independent counsel."

Rep. Dan Burton

Burton said he will subpoena both Freeh and LaBella's memos regarding the need for an independent counsel.

"The American people have a right to know what the top law enforcement officials who are working on this matter believe is the best course of action," Burton said.

Earlier this summer, Reno announced career federal prosecutor David Vicinanzo of New Hampshire would take over the Justice Department's campaign finance task force, replacing the departing LaBella. LaBella is leaving to take the position of interim U.S. attorney in San Diego.

LaBella's departure prompted harsh criticism of Reno by some newspapers and Republicans who claim the transfer of the respected LaBella in the middle of the investigation indicates Reno was not serious in pursuing the allegations of campaign-finance abuses.

CNN's John King and Ann Curley contributed to this report.
In Other News

Thursday, July 23, 1998

McCurry To Leave Clinton Administration
Lead Secret Service Agent Testifies
Report: Republicans Raising More Money Than Democrats In House Races
House Overrides Clinton On Late-Term Abortions
Democrat Lewis Massey Pulls Out Of Georgia Gov. Race
Internet Gambling Blocked In Senate Vote
Gingrich Rips Clinton Over Government Spending
Reno Aide Recommends Independent Campaign-Finance Probe
McDougal's Embezzlement Trial Set For Aug. 3

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