Clinton's fund-raising under 90-day investigation
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Sept. 8) -- Attorney General Janet Reno on Tuesday ordered a 90-day investigation of President Bill Clinton's fund-raising during his 1996 re-election campaign.
At the end of the preliminary inquiry Reno could decide to seek the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate White House fund-raising if investigators find "specific and credible evidence" that campaign finance laws have been violated.
"I have commenced a preliminary investigation ... involving President of the United States William Jefferson Clinton concerning political advertisements during the 1996 election cycle," Reno wrote to the three-judge court that oversees the independent counsel law.
The attorney general has so far resisted appointing an special prosecutor to investigate Democratic fund-raising, but this is third such 90-day probe Reno has sought on campaign finance in the last month.
At the heart of the probe is whether issue advocacy ads run by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in battleground states were actually thinly veiled Clinton-Gore re-election ads.
The DNC spots were funded with so-called "soft money" -- funds intended for party-building or get-out-the-vote drives, not for specific campaigns.
The new investigation is focusing on whether Clinton and key Democrats illegally controlled Democratic party soft money and tailored DNC television ads to help the Clinton-Gore team win re-election.
The Justice Department began the new review after a Federal Election Commission (FEC) audit suggested Democrats used soft money to exceed campaign spending limits. Last month, Reno began an initial 30-day inquiry into the matter.
Clinton's attorney, Charles Ruff, defended the DNC issue ads in a written statement Tuesday, saying they were "not only lawful, they were completely appropriate."
"Counsel for both the DNC and Clinton/Gore used those (FEC) guidelines to approve every ad to ensure strict compliance with the law," Ruff wrote. "We are hopeful that once the Department has reviewed this matter fully, it will conclude that these ads were proper."
The DNC said Tuesday it will cooperate with the Justice Department's review of issue advertising in "every way."
In a statement, DNC General Counsel Joe Sandler said the DNC expects "that this fuller examination will demonstrate conclusively that the DNC followed the letter and the spirit of the law."
Sandler said that both political parties agree on the legality of party-run issue ads. "In fact, Republicans are planning a $37 million issue ad campaign 'Operation Breakout' this fall, and have already begun running their television ads," he said.
Reno has faced continued pressure from Republican lawmakers to appoint an independent counsel to investigate alleged Democratic fund-raising abuses.
Last December Reno declined to order an outside investigation into whether the president or Vice President Al Gore might have violated a century-old law prohibiting solicitation of election funds in any federal workplace.
At that time, Reno ruled that the law applied only to "hard money," contributions used directly to support federal election campaigns, not the soft money that Clinton and Gore said they were raising.
In the past two weeks Reno also authorized a second 90-day probe of Gore and a preliminary investigation of former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes. Any of the three investigations could result in an independent counsel.
The Justice investigation of Gore centers on his fund-raising phone calls and whether the vice president knew the money he was soliciting would be diverted from soft-money accounts directly to the Clinton-Gore campaign.
The probe of Ickes, a chief fund-raiser in 1996 campaign, will focus on whether the former aide lied when he testified to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that the White House did not attempt to intervene in a 1996 strike by the Teamsters Union.
Both Gore and Ickes deny the respective charges.
The mounting effect promises to flood the White House with more distractions. The campaign finance controversy has resurfaced even as Clinton officials brace for Independent Counsel Ken Starr's report on the Monica Lewinsky affair.
CNN's Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.
Tuesday September 8, 1998
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