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Prosecutor who headed Clinton fund-raising probe quits

LaBella says he has lost Reno's confidence

By Terry Frieden and Pierre Thomas/CNN

February 3, 1999
Web posted at: 6:55 p.m. EST (2355 GMT)

WASHINGTON (February 3) -- Charles LaBella, the former lead prosecutor of the Justice Department's campaign finance task force who urged the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate alleged Democratic fund-raising abuses in the 1996 campaign, is quitting the Justice Department.

LaBella says he is leaving his post as interim U.S. Attorney in San Diego because he believes Attorney General Janet Reno and her deputy, Eric Holder, want different leadership in the job.

"The attorney general and the deputy made clear they want someone else in the job," LaBella told CNN. "I decided to move on and not get caught up in fighting for a job they did not want me to have, particularly when the issue was not job performance-related."

As chief of the Justice Department campaign finance task force, LaBella recommended to Reno that she seek an independent counsel to look into possible fund-raising improprieties. Reno said no.

When word of LaBella's internal memo urging Reno to name an outside counsel became public last year, Republican lawmakers blasted the attorney general for failing to follow his advice.

LaBella and FBI Director Louis Freeh confirmed their support for an independent counsel at Republican-led hearings. Key Republicans demanded access to the LaBella and Freeh memos, but following a showdown with the Justice Department, settled for edited excerpts and oral summaries in closed meetings. Eventually, House Judiciary committee officials involved in President Bill Clinton's impeachment proceedings did review the memos.

Reno has steadfastly refused to seek an independent counsel to take over the Justice task force probe of Clinton-Gore fund-raising during the 1996 election cycle.

LaBella, a 16-year veteran of the Justice Department who had worked in New York and San Diego, voluntarily left as the chief campaign finance prosecutor to return to San Diego where he hoped to be U.S. Attorney on more than an interim basis.

LaBella declined to discuss specifics about the campaign finance investigation. Department guidelines require his silence on the matter while still in office.

The Justice Department's chief spokesman, Myron Mellin, denied Reno has lost confidence in LaBella. "The attorney general and deputy attorney general believe Charles LaBella is a fine interim U.S. Attorney, and they have confidence in him," Mellin told CNN.

The White House's expected nomination of Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Vega to the permanent post of U.S. Attorney for San Diego has not been formally submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee. That panel is headed by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), an outspoken supporter of LaBella during the independent counsel controversy.

A spokesman for the committee said Hatch will not comment on the potential fate of the Vega nomination until the nomination has been received.

But Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) threatened to raise the issue during Vega's confirmation hearing.

Specter questioned whether Reno's decision not to nominate LaBella for the permanent position was retribution for clashing with her on the need for an independent fund-raising probe. "In light of Mr. LaBella's sharp difference with Attorney General Reno over the appointment of independent counsel, that has all the indications of retribution," Specter said.

LaBella will announce his personal plans Thursday.


RELATED STORIES

Departing Chief Fund-Raising Investigator May Recommend Independent Counsel (6-29-98)

Reno Names New Head Of Campaign Finance Probe (6-5-98)

Top Justice Aide To Make Final Report On DNC Fund-Raising Abuses (5-11-98)



MORE STORIES:

Wednesday, February 3, 1999

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