Reno faces decision on Ickes investigation
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General Janet Reno is facing a Monday deadline on whether to continue an investigation into the fund-raising activities of former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Harold Ickes.
Ickes is accused of lying to a Senate committee about whether the Clinton administration tried to intervene in a Teamsters labor dispute in exchange for campaign contributions.
Monday marks the end of a 90-day preliminary investigation into Ickes' actions. Reno must decide whether to close the case, extend the investigation for 60 days or seek an independent counsel.
Senior law enforcement officials say it appears Reno will wait until the last minute to make her decision.
Critics of the White House want to know whether the administration took action on behalf of the Teamsters union in a dispute with a California company, Diamond Walnut, to obtain campaign donations from the union. Both the White House and Ickes have denied the charge.
In a 1997 deposition, Ickes was asked if the administration had indeed taken any action on behalf of the Teamsters. He said not that he was aware of.
Later, it became known that Ickes had talked to former U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, and that after the conversation Kantor did make a call to a Diamond Walnut official.
Also, an Ickes aide told Congress she contacted Kantor about the dispute, and that Kantor confirmed to her he had contacted the company.
But Kantor has said no one ever tried to persuade him to do anything negative toward Diamond Walnut. Supporters say Ickes did not equate the phone calls as action by the administration, and he later talked openly about his contact with Kantor.
In fact, the labor dispute did not get resolved, and according to some reports the Teamsters complained that the administration did not do enough to resolve it.
The case has caused some division among law enforcement officials. Some senior officials, including FBI Director Louis Freeh, believe there should be an independent counsel, while other Justice Department officials think the Ickes case is weak.
Reno faces political pressure
For more than a year, Republican members of Congress have pushed Reno to appoint an independent counsel to investigate alleged Democratic fund-raising abuses during the 1996 campaign.
On December 7, a preliminary investigation into the fund-raising activities of President Bill Clinton comes to an end. Reno ordered the 90-day investigation of the president to consider whether issue advocacy ads run in 1996 by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in battleground states were actually thinly veiled Clinton-Gore re-election ads.
Reno already has rejected appointing an independent counsel to investigate fund-raising activities by Vice President Al Gore. After that decision last week, Reno immediately faced fierce criticism from Republicans lawmakers.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Utah, urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to take Reno to court. But Democrats defended Reno's actions.
Of Clinton, Gore and Ickes, Reno is thought to have the strongest case against Ickes. But officials warned against making predictions.
Early on, there have been some discussion that if Reno chose to appoint an independent counsel to look into the Ickes case, perhaps the entire campaign finance investigation should be sent along as well.
There has also been discussion of whether the Ickes investigation could be folded into an ongoing independent counsel investigation of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.
Should Reno decide to appoint an independent counsel for Ickes, a key question will be the parameters that she sets for the investigation.
CNN's Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.
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