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Hatch: Reno decision on Ickes 'death knell' for independent counsel

January 30, 1999
Web posted at: 11:16 a.m. EST (1616 GMT)

WASHINGTON (All Politics, January 30) -- Sen. Orrin Hatch (R- Utah) has lashed out at Attorney General Janet Reno's decision not to seek an independent counsel to investigate former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes. Hatch called her ruling a "death knell to the independent counsel statute."


Reno made the decision late Friday, minutes before a deadline, to prohibit an independent counsel from looking into whether Ickes lied to a Senate committee.

"It's a disappointment because the law is so clear that (the independent counsel) should have been invoked in this matter," Hatch said.

"There is no reasonable basis to believe that any additional investigation would discover additional evidence sufficient to prove that Ickes' testimony was knowingly and intentionally false," Reno declared in a 35-page summary of the case.

Justice Department investigators have been looking at whether Ickes committed perjury in discussing administration efforts on behalf of the Teamsters Union in a 1995 strike against Diamond Walnut Co. Ickes has denied any wrongdoing.

In November, Reno -- faced with conflicting advice from within the Justice Department -- delayed for 60 days her decision whether to seek appointment of an independent counsel to investigate Ickes.

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.

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. Last year, Reno decided against independent counsels to probe fund-raising by Vice President Al Gore and President Bill Clinton.

In Ickes' case, critics of the White House wanted to know whether the administration took action on behalf of the Teamsters Union in a dispute with Diamond Walnut to obtain campaign donations from the union.

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.

CNN's Terry Frieden and Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.


Reno says no to Clinton 'issue ad' probe (12-7-98)

Reno postpones decision on Ickes' probe (11-30-98)

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: 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)

U.S. Department of Justice

Office of Independent Counsel Donald C. Smaltz Web site


Saturday, January 30, 1999

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