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Reno Says 'No' On Independent Counsels

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Attorney General Janet Reno -- Dec. 2, 1997

RENO: More than a year ago, the Justice Department assembled a task force of experienced attorneys and FBI agents to investigate allegations of criminal wrongdoing surrounding the 1996 elections.

No criminal case in this department has more resources. The task force now numbers more than 120. More than a million pages of documents have been obtained. Hundreds of interviews have been conducted, and agents have been dispatched across the country and around the world to track down leads.

Numerous allegations have been made against high government officials. We have reviewed every one of them to see if there is specific and credible information that a crime may have been committed by a covered person or someone for whom it would be a conflict of interest for the Justice Department to investigate.

When these allegations have been specific and credible, we have commenced a preliminary investigation.

That is what the law demands, and we have implemented it faithfully.

Since I have been attorney general, I have referred matters to independent counsels no fewer than six times. Today, following the law's letter, I have decided that the allegations against President Clinton, Vice President Gore and former Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary do not at this time warrant the appointment of an independent counsel.

This decision was mine, and it was based on the facts and the law -- not pressure, politics or any other factor.

Before I discuss these decisions, I want to make one point clear. Any decision not to ask for an independent counsel does not mean that a person has been exonerated or that the work of the campaign finance task force is ended. These decisions do not end our work.

We will continue to vigorously investigate all allegations of illegal activity.

On October the 14th of this year, we began a preliminary investigation into allegations that President Clinton may have violated federal law by making fund-raising calls from his office.

Documents obtained by investigators identified 68 potential donors who might have been solicited by the president. Sixty-four of them were interviewed, and the other four gave statements through their attorneys. Investigators also interviewed White House and DNC personnel who might reasonably have been aware of any fund-raising calls made by the president.

President Clinton was interviewed. Investigators also thoroughly reviewed other records, including telephone toll records, White House operator diaries, scheduling requests and the president's schedule.

We have taken every reasonable step to investigate these allegations.

The investigation uncovered three occasions when the president made telephone calls from the White House relating to fund raising. In two of these instances, the president was calling to thank a contributor or fund-raisers and did not solicit contributions.

On the third occasion, on October the 18th, 1994, the president placed a number of fund-raising calls to potential contributors. Telephone records, investigative interviews and the president's schedule all established that these calls were made from the White House residence, not from the Oval Office or any other official White House space. The criminal law prohibiting solicitation on federal property does not encompass fund raising in residential areas of the White House, a position on record at the Justice Department since 1979.

Moreover, all donations were deposited into DNC soft money accounts, which means that they do not fall under the scope of the law which plainly prohibits only the solicitation of hard money.

On September 3rd of this year, we began a preliminary investigation into allegations that President Gore -- Vice President Gore may have violated federal law by making fund-raising telephone calls from his office in the White House.

Investigators interviewed or obtained affidavits from approximately 250 witnesses, including the vice president and members of his staff, White House, DNC and campaign officials and more than 200 individuals whom the DNC proposed that the vice president called to solicit donations.

Investigators also obtained numerous documents from many employees of the White House, the DNC and the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign, as well as persons whom the vice president called.

The evidence gathered by the task force suggests that the vice president made calls to his office to approximately 45 people between the fall of 1995 and the spring of 1996 to raise money for the Democratic National Committee.

However, evidence found by the investigators shows that the vice president solicited only soft money in these calls, not hard money. For example, no donor said the president, vice president solicited hard money.

Donors were given follow-up instructions on donating to DNC soft money accounts, and the amount solicited exceeded hard-money limits. Sometime after the 1994 elections, the DNC began to split large checks into soft and hard money accounts without the donors intent, including several of the donations solicited by the vice president.

However, investigators uncovered no evidence that the vice president was aware of the DNC's practice or in any way knew that donations he solicited would make their way into hard-money accounts.

We are, however, continuing to investigate whether the DNC's practices violate any criminal laws.

Finally, even if it were to assume that the vice president had violated 18 USC, Section 607, the independent counsel statute prohibits me from asking for an independent counsel to investigate allegations that the Justice Department would not prosecute under its existing standards.

Congress inserted this provision into the law so that government officials would not be subject to a different application of the law than other citizens.

In this case, the department's clear, longstanding policy is not to prosecute under 18 USC, Section 607, unless certain aggravating factors are present, such as coercion, knowing disregard of the law, a substantial number of violations or a significant disruption of government functions.

The investigation uncovered no evidence of any of these aggravating factors.

With respect to Secretary O'Leary, on September 19 of this year, we began a preliminary investigation into former Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary. Allegations had been made that she may have violated federal laws by soliciting a $25,000 contribution for a charitable organization in return for an official meeting with the visiting delegation of Chinese petrochemical officials. After an extensive review of the documents and more than 40 interviews, including an interview of Johnny Chung, investigators developed no evidence that she had anything to do with the solicitation of the charitable donation.

However, the Justice Department will continue to review whether anyone else may have broken the law in connection with the solicitation and payment of the $25,000 AfriCare donation.

Copyright © 1997 Federal Document Clearing House





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