Reno replaces top investigators on campaign funds Internal tension, outcries from Congress spur push to improve the inquiry


WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Janet Reno, embarrassed by missteps and discord in the Department of Justice's campaign-finance investigation, will replace the top federal prosecutor and FBI agent in charge of the inquiry with more experienced senior personnel.

The reshuffling by Reno, announced by the Justice Department yesterday, is an attempt to get control of the agency's most important investigation, one that has created serious internal tensions and accusations that she has refused to seek an independent counsel in an effort to protect the White House.

The action is not expected to have a direct effect on Reno's continuing consideration of an independent prosecutor for the investigation.

But Justice Department officials hope the new managerial team will provide her with a fuller understanding of the campaign fund-raising practices of the White House and Democratic Party as she weighs whether to ask a court to appoint an independent prosecutor -- a step that some law enforcement officials now regard as increasingly likely.

The officials said the new team will also try to halt internal quarrels over the direction of the in- quiry and add greater depth and focus to the sprawling investigation that began late last year when Reno appointed Laura Ingersoll, a relatively unknown Justice Department prosecutor, to head what has become one of the most politically incendiary cases in recent years.

Justice Department prosecutors and FBI agents have disagreed over how vigorously to pursue allegations against high-level campaign and administration officials. The reshuffling of top investigators may mean more intensive scrutiny of the actions of top officials, an approach advocated by the FBI.

Reaching outside of the Justice Department's Washington headquarters, Reno chose Charles La Bella, a top federal prosecutor in San Diego, to head the prosecution team, effectively replacing Ingersoll.

La Bella worked under Rudolph W. Giuliani, when Giuliani was U.S. attorney in Manhattan, on a number of New York corruption prosecutions. In 1990, La Bella unsuccessfully prosecuted Imelda Marcos on racketeering charges in New York and more recently has been involved in public corruption cases in California.

Taking overall command of the FBI team and reporting to La Bella is James DeSarno Jr., a criminal investigator, who recently headed the FBI's New Orleans office. The ranks of lawyers, agents and support employees are being expanded from about 90 people to a force of about 130 people. Jeffrey Lampinski, who has run the inquiry, will remain on the case.

The personnel shifts seem unlikely to quiet the storm of Republican complaints about Reno's performance in the case, including some from members of Congress who have threatened to attempt to oust her from office for her refusal to appoint an independent prosecutor.

Yesterday, some Justice Department officials said they expected the decision could intensify demands for an outside prosecutor because of the perception that the Justice Department investigation has spiraled out of control in the unsteady hands of prosecutors from the department's public integrity section.

Meanwhile, on the eve of its first public hearings, the House committee investigating fund-raising abuses in Clinton's re-election campaign postponed questioning its opening witnesses yesterday after the witnesses demanded immunity from prosecution.

The last-minute problem, apparently unexpected by committee Republicans in planning their debut, was cited by minority Democrats as evidence of disarray in the House committee.

The panel's public testimony was to have begun tomorrow with the questioning of Manlin Foung, the sister of Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie, a longtime Clinton friend and an avid re-election fund-raiser who is at the heart of the campaign-finance scandal; so far, Trie tTC has refused to cooperate with investigators.

Pub Date: 9/17/97

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