Reno takes first step in seeking probe of Democratic fund-raisers


WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Janet Reno said yesterday that the Justice Department had taken the first step toward deciding whether to seek an independent counsel to investigate possible wrongdoing by Democratic fund-raisers.

Although it does not guarantee such an appointment, the action provided the first official suggestion that complaints of possible crimes in the fund-raising of millions of dollars by Democrats were serious enough to warrant full legal evaluation.

Reno's announcement also seemed to assure that the issue of possible criminal activity in Democratic fund-raising activities would remain a high-profile political issue for at least another month as Justice Department prosecutors weigh whether to push the review to the next stage of inquiry.

But a final decision on whether to seek an independent counsel will not be reached until weeks after Tuesday's elections. White House officials did not express much concern about it. The review by the Justice Department was triggered by requests from senior Republican lawmakers for an examination into the involvement of President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and officials of the Democratic National Committee in the solicitation jTC of questionable contributions, including an unlawful $250,000 donation from a South Korean company. That donation was returned last month after it was reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The GOP lawmakers, four House chairmen and two senators, John McCain of Arizona and Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, also asked the Justice Department to examine the fund-raising activities of John Huang, a senior official at the Democratic National Committee who was suspended two weeks ago.

In a letter earlier this week to Reno, they wrote, "It is crucial for the sake of the integrity of the office of the president and the office of the vice president that this matter be investigated promptly by an independent counsel."

Under the process outlined by the independent counsel law, Justice Department officials now have up to 30 days to determine whether there is a specific allegation of criminal conduct from a credible source.

Pub Date: 11/01/96

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