Reno said to favor special prosecutor on Clinton loan

January 07, 1994|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Janet Reno has decided to ask a court to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate President and Mrs. Clinton's Arkansas land investments as soon as Congress enacts a law renewing her ability to do so, senior Justice Department officials said yesterday.

Ms. Reno herself came close yesterday to saying she would use the law to ask a panel of judges to appoint an independent counsel to investigate allegations surrounding the Clintons' investment in the Whitewater Development Co. of Arkansas before Mr. Clinton became president.

In a prepared statement, Ms. Reno spoke both about the Whitewater investigation and the need to renew the law that would allow her to petition a court to name an independent investigator. Senior Justice Department officials said she and her top aides had concluded that seeking an independent prosecutor would be unavoidable if the law were passed.

But Ms. Reno and her aides said she could not make a flat public promise to do so because the bill was making its way through Congress.

The decision to seek a court-appointed investigator ensures that the Whitewater issue will move to a new level of scrutiny and impetus to calls in Congress to move quickly to renew the independent prosecutor law, which expired in 1992.

The old law permitted federal judges to appoint independent prosecutors to investigate assertions of government wrongdoing free of Justice Department oversight.

Ms. Reno spoke amid indications that the White House may have issued misleading statements about the circumstances under which it decided to turn over to the Justice Department files that had been removed from the office of Vincent W. Foster Jr., a White House lawyer, after he killed himself on July 20.

White House spokesmen said on Dec. 23 that Mr. Clinton had decided to voluntarily turn over the documents to law enforcement officials. But some administration officials said yesterday that he did so only after learning that the Justice Department had informed his lawyer it was preparing to subpoena the papers as part of a criminal investigation into a failed Arkansas savings and loan that was owned by the Clintons' partner in Whitewater.

The officials said the president's lawyer, David Kendall, spoke with Justice Department lawyers that day about an impending subpoena.

Yet White House officials insisted yesterday that neither Mr. Clinton, Mr. Kendall or anyone else at the White House knew of the Justice Department preparation of the subpoena before Dec. 23, when Mr. Clinton said he'd hand over the documents.

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