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Reno: Independent Counsel Not Needed Yet


WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 27) -- Resisting increasing pressure, Attorney General Janet Reno said this morning that the Democratic campaign fund-raising controversy has not yet crossed the threshold she needs to appoint an independent counsel.

If and when it does, she said, she will appoint a prosecutor. But, she cautioned, "a lot of people have a fundamental miscomprehension about the independent counsel act." (192K WAV sound)

Reno told reporters at her weekly briefing that Justice Department attorneys experienced in campaign law are conducting a "vigorous, thorough and comprehensive investigation" and are advising her on a regular basis on whether an independent prosecutor is needed.

"As recently as last week they have advised me that it does not rise to the level and the standards provided for in the independent counsel statute," Reno said. "When it does, I will follow the law of the statute." (288K WAV sound)

After weeks of revelations over questionable Democratic fund-raising practices, Washington was in a tizzy Wednesday over revelations President Bill Clinton personally approved overnight stays for major donors in the White House's Lincoln Bedroom.

But Reno noted that current law calls for independent investigations only in "limited situations," which she listed as when specific evidence of specific crimes committed by high government officials is present.

Calls for a counsel are coming from prominent Democrats as well as Republicans, and The Wall Street Journal reported that FBI Director Louis Freeh may soon add his voice. The Journal reported that Freeh's investigation is larger than previously thought and has unearthed "serious evidence" Chinese officials steered funds to the Democrats.

Meanwhile, a federal grand jury set up by the Justice Department heard its first witnesses Wednesday, including an Asian-American business group official, Rawlein Soberano. Soberano has alleged that former Democratic National Committee (DNC) fund-raiser John Huang pressured him to funnel $250,000 in to the DNC by pretending the money came from the group's small business members. Through his lawyer, Huang has denied wrongdoing.

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