WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Janet Reno has asked a special federal court to name an independent counsel to investigate whether Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown violated federal law in his business dealings and personal finances while a Cabinet officer.
In court documents, Ms. Reno asserted yesterday that Mr. Brown had received nearly $500,000 for his holdings in a company in which he had invested no money, and that there are allegations the payments may be linked to his position.
The petition to the three-judge panel, filed Tuesday and unsealed yesterday, marked the fourth time in less than two years that Ms. Reno has invoked a Watergate-era law to seek appointment of an outside investigator to probe alleged misdeeds of Clinton administration officials.
The three other cases being investigated by special counsels, who have powers to empanel grand juries, involve Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros, former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy and the Whitewater investigation revolving around President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton's Arkansas real estate investments.
The White House issued a statement yesterday in which Mr. Clinton hailed Mr. Brown's "unparalleled" success as commerce secretary, said he was confident the independent counsel's investigation "will find no wrongdoing" by Mr. Brown, and made clear the Cabinet member will remain for now.
Mr. Brown, in a separate statement, expressed disappointment over Ms. Reno's decision but said he believed he would be exonerated.
"My confidence is based on the fact that I have never engaged in any official act to further my personal financial interests, there have been no conflicts of interest, and I have complied in good faith with my financial disclosure obligations," Mr. Brown said.
Ms. Reno's application for counsel cited three elements:
* Mr. Brown sold his stock in First International Inc., a communications and investment banking company, of which he and businesswoman Nolanda Hill each owned half, for "things of value totaling almost $500,000" although he had invested no money in the company.
* Mr. Brown's financial disclosure filings included "possible false statements or omissions" about payments from First International and "several errors" about his partnership interest in the Boston Bank of Commerce and the location of real estate investments.
* Mr. Brown "may have signed an inaccurate application" for a mortgage for a Washington townhouse by failing to reveal all of his debts and misstating the source of the down payment.