Reno Urges Veto Of Spending Bill If Congress Enacts Ethics Rules On Prosecutors
By Terry Frieden/CNN
WASHINGTON (July 30) -- A top Justice Department official stepped up the administration attack on a congressional proposal intended to tighten ethics requirements on federal prosecutors, by threatening to veto a key appropriations bill.
Associate Attorney General Ray Fisher blasted the House measure which would require Justice attorneys to comply with the varying ethics rules of all 50 states. It also creates an outside board to review allegations of attorney misconduct.
"It would be a disaster if it were enacted," Fisher told reporters. "The effect of this provision would be to severely hamper the investigation or prosecution of multistate cases," he said.
The third-ranking Justice Department official urged the House to drop the provision entirely. "If the proposal is not removed, we are announcing today that the Attorney General will recommend that the president veto the appropriations bill," Fisher said.
In fact, Attorney General Janet Reno had indicated last month she would urge a veto, but at that at that time the proposal was simply a free-standing bill. The new threat raises the stakes because the provision is now attached to the entire Justice appropriations bill.
Backers of the measure say action is required to protect citizens from overzealous prosecutors.
Senior law enforcement officials fear defense attorneys would be able to stop investigations in their tracks by filing complaints about prosecutors with the outside board.
These officials also worry that defense lawyers would gain access to grand jury and other sensitive information available to the independent board investigating the allegations against prosecutors.
In so doing defendants could learn where investigations of them are headed.
"We recognize the need for mechanisms to deal with occasional misconduct when it occurs, but this proposal is fatally flawed", Fisher said.