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Special Event

Attorney General Reno Holds Weekly Media Briefing

Aired July 13, 2000 - 9:32 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now the attorney general has had a seat, and we will go ahead and listen in.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, the head of the campaign financing task force has been busy formulating his recommendation on a special counsel to investigate statements made by the vice president regarding 1996 fund-raising. Has that recommendation formally reached your desk?

JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I don't know what you mean by formally, but I have it.

QUESTION: When did you get it?

RENO: The day before yesterday.

QUESTION: And, as usual, you don't have a time limit on how long you're going to consider it?

RENO: Well, I want to consider anything that anybody wants to present, so I'm awaiting others -- the recommendation of others, as well.

QUESTION: Will they carry equal weight with Mr. Conrad's recommendation? Or does his...

RENO: It depends on the substance of the recommendation, how persuasive each recommendation is and what the evidence and the law that they rely on is.

QUESTION: And you have no expectation of when this will be resolved?

RENO: I'd like to resolve it as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Thank you.

RENO: OK, I can go home now.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Can I ask you something about the -- can I ask you something about hate crime incidents? There have been a lot of unrelated but much publicized incidents involving the victims that may or may not be the result of racial violence or discrimination or bias against gays and so forth.

Yesterday, for example, you met with the members of the family of a teenager in Mississippi who was found hanged. I wonder if you could tell us about -- anything about that meeting and, also, how you decide where and when to get involved in federal investigations.

Such as, for example, the FBI has -- you have opened an investigation into the shoplifting related death in Michigan. And now there's an incident in Philadelphia this morning that will probably lead to calls for federal involvement. Tell us about the Mississippi meeting and what your feelings are about when the federal government gets involved in cases like this.

RENO: Well, we had the opportunity to talk with Mrs. Johnson and her son, Roger. We explained that we were going to pursue this investigation. We wanted to follow every lead. She is a very courageous lady, and I very much appreciated the opportunity to talk with her.

With respect to when we pursue an investigation, it really depends on the circumstances. In some instances, state and local officials will pursue it and it will be more appropriate for them to handle it. We try to make a judgment based on what is in the best interest of justice and the community.

We look to see whether federal laws are implicated, but it really has to be on a case-by-case basis because it will depend on the circumstances involving the state and local officials as well.

QUESTION: Ms. Reno, have you seen the police tape of the Philadelphia incident?

RENO: No, I have not.

QUESTION: Has there been any request from Philadelphia or any place else that Justice get involved in this case?

RENO: I don't know whether there's been a request, but the U.S. attorney has commenced a preliminary investigation.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: On the capital clemency, could you discuss where the recommendations are, as well as the report, what the time line is for the completion and when this is going to be forwarded to the White House?

RENO: Are you talking about the clemency regulations?

QUESTION: Right, as well as the death penalty study that the deputy attorney general...

RENO: Well, with respect to the clemency regulations, we hope to complete those as soon as possible so that that matter can be available -- those regulations can be available. With respect to the study, I hope to complete that in the very near future. QUESTION: What is the aim of the study?

RENO: Everything I do, I want to look at to make sure that we do it right. And if we can't figure out what figures say, that we explore it and look at it, and try to make sure that we address issues that are of concern to the American people. I think one of the things that I've tried to do in office is to say, Is there a problem? Let's see, let's look at it, let's dig and try to get to the bottom of it.

QUESTION: It's been described as a review or analysis of numbers, race among the issues involved. But will the quality of defense and other issues be looked at as well?

RENO: Those are the issues that have got ultimately to be addressed if there seems to be any trend or indication that that is a factor.

In the federal system, I have been generally impressed with the quality of indigent defense made available by court appointment. But we must continue to look at it.

The other thing we've got to be careful of, when you get into numbers, a very small pool of numbers makes it impossible to make any sound statistical judgment, and so you've got to be careful that you don't jump to conclusions.

If there are a significant number of minorities coming into the system, whether it be in a death penalty case, a juvenile direct file case or just charging, you've got to look at it to see why. It may not be any disparity in treatment; it may be just a failure of institutions along the way. That's one of the reasons that I've focused so much on prevention. I think we've got to provide a solid foundation for everyone and not wait until we have got to do remedial action or take punitive action down the road.

QUESTION: Does it trouble you at all that it does seem that aside from the racial question a lot of death penalty cases are coming out of a few states?

And there's something like, what, 11 states that have never even -- at least as of a year ago -- had a case referred to the main Justice?

KAGAN: We have been listening to briefly to Attorney General Janet Reno. This is her weekly media briefing. The attorney general commenting on a couple of things. She says she now has on her desk a request for an independent investigation into Vice President Al Gore and his campaign finance activities from 1996. The attorney general says she will look into the matter, but would give no timeline as to when she would have a decision on that.

Also, met with the Johnson family. They are the family that lost the son, the 17-year-old Raynard Johnson, found hanging in the family tree. They are asking for a federal investigation. The attorney general said she will look into that. And the Justice Department also looking into the clemency guidelines considering -- concerning the federal death penalty. And there you have her weekly media briefing.

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