GOP lawyer likely to be named Whitewater counsel

January 20, 1994|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Janet Reno has apparently narrowed her choice for a special prosecutor for the so-called "Whitewater" scandal to a Republican lawyer, Robert B. Fiske, Jr. of New York City, and may appoint him as early as today, a Clinton administration aide said last night.

Ms. Reno has been searching for a week for someone outside the Justice Department to make an official investigation into an Arkansas land deal in which President and Mrs. Clinton invested in the past.

Weeks of negative speculation have surrounded the Clintons' interest in Whitewater Development Co. and White House handling of the Whitewater files.

The attorney general reportedly settled this week on Mr. Fiske, who at one point was considered for the No. 2 post in the Justice Department during the Bush administration, only to be shunted aside by then-President Bush's White House aides after conservative Republicans objected.

The apparent choice of Mr. Fiske as Whitewater prosecutor was revealed first last night by the Associated Press and was then confirmed by a government official.

Now a Wall Street lawyer, the 63-year-old Mr. Fiske was the U.S. attorney in New York City from 1976 to 1980.

Mr. Fiske is a partner in a Wall Street law firm, Davis, Polk and Wardwell -- the same firm in which the Iran-contra special prosecutor, Lawrence E. Walsh, was a partner until 1981, when he moved to Oklahoma City and joined a firm there.

President Clinton and White House aides, yielding to rising political pressure earlier this month, decided to ask the attorney general to go ahead with her own selection of a prosecutor who, though set up as an independent figure, still would report to her.

Before that, Ms. Reno had refused steadfastly to give in to Republican calls for such a prosecutor, arguing that anyone who worked for her, even though supposedly independent, would be criticized for being subordinate to her and a part of the Clinton administration.

She had indicated that she wanted to wait until Congress approves a since-lapsed federal law that authorizes a special court here to choose a truly independent special prosecutor, reporting only to that court. A key issue that the attorney general is expected to resolve in time to announce her appointment of Mr. Fiske is the scope of the investigation he is to make.

In recent weeks, a trio of current Justice Department prosecutors and a federal grand jury have been investigating a failed Arkansas savings and loan, Madison Guaranty.

But Republicans and others have said that the Whitewater land deal may be linked to Madison.

Under Justice Department rules, Ms. Reno will define exactly what the new prosecutor is to examine, and draft rules to govern that probe.

Among other lawyers whom Ms. Reno reportedly has considered for the assignment was Baltimore attorney and former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti.

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