Reno faces decisions on campaign finance investigationsSources: Some Justice officials recommend no independent counsel for Gore
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, November 23) -- Two years after President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore won re-election, Attorney General Janet Reno must decide whether the fund-raising activities of Clinton, Gore and former Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes warrant investigation by an independent counsel.
As the summer drew to a close, Reno launched 90-day preliminary investigations into the fund-raising techniques of Gore, Ickes and Clinton. Now those 90-day investigations are coming to an end and Reno must decide whether to close the cases, extend the investigations for 60 days or seek independent counsels.
The decision on Gore will come first, and is expected to be announced Tuesday.
CNN has learned some senior Justice Department officials are recommending that Reno not seek an independent counsel to investigate Gore's role in the 1996 campaign.
In July, Reno launched a 90-day investigation to examine statements Gore made during a 1997 Justice Department investigation of fund-raising calls that Gore made from his White House office in 1995.
Although the first investigation into Gore's calls concluded there were not sufficient grounds to seek an independent counsel, Reno released a statement in August saying she opened the 90-day investigation based on "new information."
At the time, sources said the probe was prompted by an interview in which the vice president told FBI agents he believed only so-called "soft money" was used to finance a media campaign. But a memo from Gore's office that was released to the Justice Department this summer raised questions about whether some "hard money" political contributions may have been also used.
Soft money for general issue ads and political party-building is largely unregulated. Hard money raised for specific campaigns is closely regulated.
A number of senior Justice officials believe the memo is inconclusive and so far no one has come forward to say Gore solicited hard money in those phone calls.
Over the past few weeks the Justice Department investigators have interviewed both Clinton and Gore about the 1996 election campaign ads.
"The vice president voluntarily agreed to the interview and will continue to cooperate fully, as he has done in the past, with the Justice Department's examination," Gore's lawyers said in a statement.
But FBI Director Louie Freeh continues to maintain there is a need for an independent counsel, citing conflict of interest.
The 90-day investigation of Ickes ends November 30. By that date Reno must decide how to proceed with allegations that Ickes lied to Sen. Fred Thompson's Governmental Affairs Committee when he testified the White House did not intervene in a Teamsters labor dispute in exchange for campaign donations.
Ickes denies any wrongdoing. During the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election campaign, Ickes played the role of key White House fund-raiser.
Officials close to the case say the allegations focus on Ickes' denial that the White House attempted to intervene in a 1996 strike by the Teamsters Union against a California firm, Diamond Walnut.
In testimony in October 1997, Ickes told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee he did not know of any White House involvement. An aide later told the committee, however, she had been asked by Ickes to see that the strike issue was reviewed by then-Trade Representative Mickey Kantor.
On December 7, Reno's preliminary investigation of Clinton comes to an end. The attorney general 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.
The Justice Department began the review after a Federal Election Commission (FEC) audit suggested Democrats used soft money to exceed campaign spending limits. In September White House Counsel Charles Ruff defended the DNC issue ads in a written statement, 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."
CNN's Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.
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