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 Reno's Comments On Burton Subpoena (08-04-97)

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Reno Blasts Burton's Subpoena

House committee probes attorney general's independent counsel decision

Reno
Janet Reno

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Aug. 4) -- Attorney General Janet Reno said Tuesday even though she is still considering whether to appoint an independent counsel to investigate Democratic fund-raising abuses, her decision will not be affected by political pressure from Rep. Dan Burton.

Burton's House Government Reform and Oversight Committee is scheduled Thursday to vote on holding Reno is contempt of Congress for not handing over two Justice Department memos that recommend she appoint a special prosecutor.

"Chairman Burton told me Friday that if I triggered the appointment of an independent counsel, I would not have to produce the memos," Reno said. "If I give in to that suggestion, then I risk Congress turning all decisions to prosecute into a political football.

"I may trigger the Independent Counsel Act. I may not. I'm trying to keep an open mind," Reno told reporters. She said it may take at least another three weeks to make a final decision.

Burton denies that he is politicizing a legal decision.

Burton
Rep. Dan Burton

"We're not interested in politicizing the process at all," Burton told CNN's Frank Sesno. "What we want to do is find out why the attorney general will not appoint an independent counsel even though people all over the spectrum, the legal spectrum, are saying that she should."

The Indiana Republican tried to answer that question and also get at the content of those confidential memos Tuesday morning by calling three key Justice Department officials to testify before his committee.

Before the hearing began, Reno telephoned Burton and asked to join FBI Director Louis Freeh; Charles LaBella, outgoing head of the Justice Department campaign finance task force; and James Desarno, LaBella's FBI counterpart, before the House committee. Burton refused her request.

LaBella authored a report in July and Freeh penned a November 1997 memo that recommended Reno request an independent counsel to investigate the fund-raising practices of the 1996 Clinton/Gore campaign. Burton has subpoenaed copies of both reports.

Reno has refused to hand over the internal memos, saying they contain secret grand jury material and a blueprint for their investigation.

She has offered to brief the House and Senate Judiciary Committee chairmen on the memos and her independent counsel decision once it is made. Reno said Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and Sen. Orrin Hatch, (R-Utah) had accepted that accommodation, but Burton rejected it.

Lantos
Rep. Tom Lantos

Burton may have kept Reno away from his hearing Tuesday, but Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) used his committee time to a read a letter from Reno into the record.

In the strongly worded statement, Reno defended her decision-making process.

"If future attorneys general know that the innermost thinking behind their toughest law enforcement decisions will become fodder for partisan debate, then we risk creating a Justice Department and an FBI that tacks the political winds instead of following the facts and the law, wherever they lead," Reno wrote.

"If future law enforcement professionals cannot provide advice that is candid and confidential, we will have a government of 'yes' men who advocate what is popular instead of what is right," Reno continued.

She also reiterated she has not finished reviewing the LaBella memo and revealing its contents before she has made a final judgment would be a grave mistake.

Freeh
Louis Freeh

"Indeed to provide this memo to the committee would be a great disservice to an independent counsel, if one were appointed, and could undermine his or her ability to carry out an effective criminal investigation," Reno said.

In his opening statement to the committee, Freeh also warned that forcing FBI agents and prosecutors to reveal their confidential advice to their superiors would have a "chilling effect" on the process of law enforcement.

"If we were to set a precedent where, an unnecessary precedent, where prosecution memos ... are disclosed and publicly discussed, the chilling effect that that would have on prosecutors, assistant U.S. attorneys and investigators, in my professional judgment, would be very severe," Freeh said.

He also pledged his continuing support for Reno.

"I have tremendous respect for our attorney general. I have tremendous affection for our attorney general," Freeh said. "I do not believe for one moment that any of her decisions, but particularly her decision in this matter, have been motivated by anything other than the facts and the law which she is obligated to follow."

But when pressed on the substance of his memo, Freeh again stated that the involvement of "a core group of individuals who in my view are indisputably covered persons" creates a conflict of interest for Reno and an independent counsel should take over the investigation.

LaBella
Charles LaBella

Asked by Burton if he was referring to the White House, Freeh said, "Yes, in a much larger context than the White House."

"I don't know if you want to answer this, but does that include the president or vice president?" Burton asked.

"Yes, sir," Freeh answered.

But both LaBella and Freeh stressed that Congress has charged the attorney general, and only the attorney general, with making the independent counsel decision and they urged the committee to give Reno time to do just that.

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Tuesday, August 4, 1998

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