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Reno Mulls Decision On Independent Counsel


Gore calls his awkward fund-raising defense a 'very big mistake'

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Nov. 30) -- Attorney General Janet Reno spent Sunday in her office mulling a giant decision: whether to seek appointment of an independent counsel to investigate fund-raising phone calls by President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

Reno's decision will come Monday or Tuesday. Her deputies in the Justice Department have recommended against pursuing a special counsel, and sources tell CNN that Reno is inclined to accept that advice.

FBI Director Louis Freeh, however, supports seeking an independent counsel, and some leading Republicans said Sunday Reno should take his view into account.

"I don't think she should ignore that kind of advice, especially since now we have some 30 people who've taken the Fifth Amendment," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Gore: 'Wanted To Make Clean Breast Of It'

Meanwhile, in an interview in the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine, Gore characterized his handling of questions surrounding those phone calls as "a very big mistake."

The vice president said he regretted his performance at a news conference last March during which he admitted making fund-raising calls from his White House office.

During that news conference, Gore stated several times that there was "no controlling legal authority" over his decision to make the phone calls, an assertion since widely lampooned. He told The New Yorker that he held the meeting with reporters over the objections of his own staff.

"I wanted to make a clean breast of it and tell everything I did, and why, even at the risk of making some mistakes," Gore told the magazine. "You know, to paraphrase the late Isaiah Berlin, 'The fox makes many little mistakes, the hedgehog makes one big one.' And that was one very big mistake."

GOP: Reno Should Take Broader View

Anticipating that Reno will likely decide not to pursue an independent counsel, top GOP officials went on the offensive Sunday, warning that in their view, such a decision would be a major mistake.

"I think there will be all kinds of flak raised, and I think this problem will never end with a satisfactory resolution," Hatch said.

The specific issue before Reno is whether she should seek an appointment of a special counsel to probe allegations that Clinton and Gore may have violated federal law by making campaign fund-raising calls from federal property.

But Republicans say they think Reno should take a broader view and seek an outside investigation into the full range of fund-raising activities by the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign.

Among the items the GOP thinks should be investigated: White House coffees with campaign contributors; the possibility that illegal overseas money flowed into the campaign; and the use of Democratic Party money for advertisements that bolstered the president's re-election campaign.

"The focus just on the telephone calls is much too narrow," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., on ABC's "This Week."

But Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., accused Republicans of being "in a constant search for a rationale for an investigation" and said both parties had used loopholes in campaign finance laws to pour money into ads.

"To say that the Clinton campaign was unique is simply disingenuous," Torricelli said on "This Week."

Task Force: Law's Purpose To Prevent Shakedowns

Reno has said that the law setting up the independent counsel requires her to find that specific felonies might have been committed, rather than to refer "some big blob" of allegations to an outside investigator.

A Justice Department task force recommended against asking for an independent counsel on the grounds that the 114-year-old law that bars fund-raising in federal offices was designed to prevent shakedowns of federal employees. It has never been used to prosecute elected officials who make calls to private citizens from their offices asking for donations, the task force said.

In a separate matter, Reno also must decide by Tuesday whether to seek an independent counsel to look into allegations that former Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary solicited a charitable contribution in exchange for agreeing to meet with Chinese businessmen.

CNN White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report.

In Other News:

Weekend Nov. 29 & 30, 1997

Reno Mulls Decision On Independent Counsel
Clinton: Give Americorps 5 More Years

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