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Reno postpones decision on Ickes' probe

Court gives her a 60-day extension

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, November 30) -- Attorney General Janet Reno, faced with conflicting advice from within the Justice Department, is delaying by 60 days her decision whether to seek appointment of an independent counsel to investigate former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes.

Reno asked a three-judge federal appeals court panel to grant the 60-day extension so she can continue to review Ickes' case to decide if an independent counsel is needed.

Reno, Ickes

The court said it granted the extension because the attorney general "has shown good cause" for her request. But the court did not disclose the reasons Reno gave for requesting the additional time. Sources say Reno asked that her legal filing justifying the additional time remain secret.

At issue is whether Ickes lied to a Senate committee about whether the Clinton Administration tried to intervene in a Teamsters labor dispute in exchange for campaign contributions.

Monday marked the end of a 90-day preliminary investigation into Ickes' actions when Reno had to decide whether to close the case, extend the investigation for 60 days or seek an independent counsel.

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.

Attorneys for Ickes had no comment on Reno's request for the delay.

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.

Reno last week rejected appointing an independent counsel to investigate fund-raising activities by Vice President Al Gore. After that decision, Reno received fierce criticism from Republicans lawmakers.

Reno faces still another decision on December 7, when 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.

Teamsters dispute at heart of allegations

In Ickes' case, 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 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.

In the Clinton, Gore and Ickes matters, Reno was thought to have the strongest case against Ickes.

Early on, there was 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 whether the Ickes investigation could be folded into an ongoing independent counsel investigation of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

CNN's Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.

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RELATED STORIES

Independent counsel decision intensifies pressure on Reno (11-25-98)

No independent counsel for Gore (11-24-98)

Reno triggers 90-day probe into Ickes' fund-raising (09-01-98)

Ickes stepping down (11-11-96)


GAVEL TO GAVEL

Gavel To Gavel: Fund-Raising Hearings

Senators Grill Ickes On Democratic Fund-Raising (10-08-97)

Ickes Delivers Unapologetic, Feisty Opening Statement (10-07-97)

The Walnut Overture: Teamsters Were Cooling On Clinton, So The White House Went To Work (TIME, 10-20-97)

Fowler: Ickes Ran Democratic Fund-Raising In '96 (09-09-97)

Ickes: Clinton Called From The White House (09-26-97)


RELATED SITES
U.S. Department of Justice

Office of Independent Counsel Donald C. Smaltz Web site


MORE STORIES:

Monday, November 30, 1998

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