Reno Reviewing Whether Clinton Broke Campaign Finance Rules
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Sept. 3) -- Attorney General Janet Reno is expected to decide within a couple of weeks whether to pursue a preliminary investigation into whether President Bill Clinton violated campaign finance laws.
As CNN reported two weeks ago, Justice Department officials are looking into whether the Clinton-Gore campaign illegally controlled so-called "soft money" during the 1996 presidential campaign in violation of federal election laws.
Soft money can be used for general party-building activities, but not for specific candidate efforts.
True to form, at her weekly press briefing Thursday, Reno refused to comment about possible violations Justice may be looking into or whether a 30-day initial review of Clinton's fund-raising activities had been initiated.
|Attorney General Janet Reno|
This issue has been raised a number of times before, as the Justice Department campaign task force has conducted its investigation. White House officials and Democratic party leaders have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Justice officials, however, received new information that senior Clinton/Gore officials, perhaps with Clinton's knowledge or at his direction, were controlling Democratic National Committee soft money and tailoring DNC television advertising to specifically bolster the president's re-election chances.
If Reno decides there is "specific" and "credible" evidence of campaign spending violations, she would order a 90-day preliminary investigation into the matter, which could ultimately lead to the appointment of an independent counsel.
In a story Thursday, The Washington Post reported officials familiar with the Justice Department efforts said Clinton's private attorney, David Kendall, met with top Justice officials Wednesday to argue that further investigation was not necessary.
|Vice President Al Gore|
According to the Post's sources, Kendall went on to argue that if a formal inquiry is started than it should be directed at the 1996 campaign organization, not the president himself.
In addition to this initial review, two separate 90-day preliminary investigations by the Justice Department are already underway into whether Vice President Al Gore and former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes violated campaign finance laws.
The Justice Department has also been looking at similar allegations concerning the Republicans and the 1996 Dole campaign. But Justice Department sources emphasized the new information regarding the Democrats specifically deals with White House officials and has priority.
In a closed-door meeting Wednesday, the attorney general briefed key lawmakers on the status of the Justice Department campaign finance investigation but refused to disclose her intentions in regards to appointing an independent counsel.
|Harold Ickes testified in front|
of the Senate Governmental
Following the meeting Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) was not convinced, saying Reno's refusal to seek an independent counsel has "now passed the point of reasonableness."
House Government Reform and Oversight Committee chairman Dan Burton (R-Ind.), whose committee voted to hold Reno in contempt of Congress for not turning over internal memos, also accused the attorney general of protecting the president and vice president.
Responding to Burton's charge, Reno said Thursday, "Well, that's what he's regularly told me, and I've explained to him that, if I were trying to do that, I should go home. I've got to call it like I see it, regardless of the consequences.
"I've asked for the independent counsel before, and I will ask for it again when the evidence and the law justifies it," Reno said.
|Rep. Dan Burton|
But both Reno and Burton indicated that a settlement might be reached on the contempt issue.
Burton said Wednesday he may recommend that Congress drop the effort to cite the attorney general for her refusal to turn over to the committee memos from Charles LaBella, the former head of the campaign finance task force, and FBI Director Louis Freeh, in which both men recommend the appointment of an independent counsel.
During the meeting with lawmakers, Reno let them read redacted versions of the documents.
"If the [House] leadership and my members feel like that's sufficient after I've briefed them, then the contempt citation might not go forward," Burton told reporters. "But if we don't have everything that we think is required, then of course, we'll probably move forward with it."
Hatch agreed, saying, "It appears that the contempt crisis may be averted."
Reno said the matter was discussed and she pledged her department would "continue to try to do everything we can to honor Congress' oversight responsibilities while at the same time making sure that we do nothing that will interfere with the investigation and prosecution of these matters."
CNN's Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.