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Signs of Growing Tension Between Clinton, Freeh

President offers a less-than-ringing endorsement

By Wolf Blitzer

freeh clinton

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, March 26) -- President Bill Clinton bluntly says he doesn't know whether FBI Director Louis Freeh is withholding sensitive national security information from the White House. "You don't know what you don't get," Clinton said.

At issue is whether Freeh gave the White House all the relevant information on China's alleged effort to launder campaign money in U.S. congressional elections last year.

White House officials are angry that Freeh may not have shared enough information with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Vice President Al Gore in advance of their separate visits to China.


Answering reporters' questions at an Oval Office photo opportunity with Bosnia's president Aliya Izetbegovic, the president said Attorney General Janet Reno will have to decide whether Freeh did the right thing.

"I know that we have raised it with the attorney general and I believe that she will do the best she can to make the right decision," Clinton said.

Clinton says he still retains confidence in Freeh, but his comments were carefully expressed and were seen as less than a ringing endorsement. "On the basis of this incident, I don't have any information at this time which would call into question that confidence," Clinton said.

White House Press Secretary Michael McCurry later pointedly refused to elaborate but did offer an admonition. "The president obviously needs to be in a position to appropriately conduct this nation's diplomacy," McCurry said.


And that raises the question whether all of this is now beginning to affect the president's ability to deal appropriately with national security issues.

"To the extent the president and the director of the FBI are not firing on the same cylinders, that's obviously going to have a detrimental effect on the ability on the president to conduct foreign policy as successfully as he can," said Allan Lichtman, an American University historian.

All of this suggests that the tension between the president and Freeh, resulting from the FBI's ongoing investigation into Democratic Party fund-raising activities, is ratcheting up. But given the politics of the investigation, Freeh is seen as virtually untouchable.

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