White House slaps director of FBI with faint praise Clinton spokesman says Freeh is leading agency 'as best he can'

December 05, 1997|By HEARST NEWSPAPERS

WASHINGTON -- The White House took a verbal poke at FBI Director Louis J. Freeh yesterday after Freeh's recommendation that an independent counsel investigate the Democrats' 1996 campaign fund raising.

White House spokesman Mike McCurry, underlining that he is "pretty careful" about choosing his words, said President Clinton has "great confidence" that Freeh is leading the FBI "as best he can."

The carefully worded statement -- repeated several times in response to reporters' questions about whether Clinton has full confidence in his FBI chief -- comes after Attorney General Janet Reno rejected Freeh's advice and announced Tuesday that she would not seek an independent counsel.

Instead, Reno said career Justice Department lawyers would continue the investigation.

McCurry carefully answered questions about Clinton's view of Freeh: "I think I just told you that he's got confidence that Mr. Freeh is doing his best to lead the FBI."

At another point during the daily White House briefing, McCurry said: "I think the president is fully satisfied he's doing his best to lead the FBI, as I said."

Asked to clarify the half-hearted endorsement, McCurry quipped: "You take it whatever way you want to take it."

Is Freeh the right man for the job?

McCurry: "He's the one in the job, that's correct."

Would Clinton be disappointed if Freeh left early?

"I'm just not -- there's no indication at all that's going to happen," McCurry replied.

Clinton had neither talked to Freeh nor received a resignation letter from him, McCurry said.

FBI spokesman John Collingwood said he had no comment on McCurry's statements. "I'm not sure the director has seen the comments that were made," he said. Collingwood added that Freeh "has no plans for leaving" the bureau.

There has been speculation that Freeh, the father of five young children, might be attracted to a lucrative law partnership in New York, where he served as an FBI agent, federal prosecutor and judge.

McCurry spoke several hours after Reno, at her weekly news conference, affirmed her support for Freeh.

"He is a pleasure to work with," Reno said.

Reno added: "He is a professional. He is dedicated. He is honest. He wants to do the best job possible. And I just feel very comfortable in my working relationship with him."

Freeh, a former U.S. District Court judge, holds a 10-year term as FBI director.

He was appointed by Clinton and confirmed by the Senate in 1993.

Pub Date: 12/05/97

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