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Reno Approaches Decision Day On Gore Investigation

By Pierre Thomas/CNN


WASHINGTON (Sep. 25) -- One week from today, Attorney General Janet Reno must decide whether to expand her department's probe of Vice President Al Gore's fund-raising activities, the next step toward the possible naming of an independent counsel.

With the clock ticking, Justice Department lawyers are still involved in an intense debate over some critical legal questions that could end up affecting President Bill Clinton as well as Gore.

And as pressure mounts on her from all fronts, including some congressional Republicans who are vowing to force her from office if an independent investigation is not called, Reno remains defiant.


"I'm just going to call it like I see it," she said during Friday's weekly press briefing. "I'm going to pursue it, and let the evidence and the law dictate what I do. And if someone wants to impeach me, then I'll face that issue at that point, but that won't be a factor in my consideration."

The major questions still plaguing Reno and her aides:

  • Are the vice president and president exempt from an 1883 statute that bars fund-raising on federal property?
  • Is it legal to seek an independent counsel prosecution of a law that has rarely been been enforced?

If Reno decides to launch a 90-day FBI investigation into Gore's activities, it could lead to the appointment of an independent counsel.

Republicans continue to press the issue. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said, "In the past six months she has sounded more like a defense attorney for the president than she has the chief prosecutor of the United States."


During his Senate committee's hearings investigating fund-raising, Chairman Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) said, "I think the public record has developed now so without question there needs to be an independent counsel to look at this entire mess."

But Reno insists she must be guided a statute written by Sen. George Pendleton 114 years ago that is now so murky it sometimes raises more questions than it answers.

"They involve complex issues of law. They involve many facts and they have great consequences one way or the other," Reno said.

Justice Department officials tell CNN it's possible Gore had no illegal intent when he made those phone calls, and that would weigh heavily in any decision to proceed. But those same officials say the only way to determine Gore's intent may be more investigation.

In Other News:

Friday Sept. 26, 1997

Senate Takes Up Campaign Finance Reform Debate
Ickes: Clinton Called From The White House
Reno Approaches Decision Day
Gore To Challenge GOP To Pass Campaign Finance Reform
Bennett: Jones Case Probably Won't Settle

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