Justice aide pushed for Clinton, Gore special prosecutor LaBella rebuffed by Reno on campaign finance probe

May 03, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The Justice Department's top prosecutor for campaign finance abuses privately told Republican senators last week that he had urged Attorney General Janet Reno to seek an independent prosecutor to investigate President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, but was rebuffed by Reno and other advisers, law enforcement officials said yesterday.

The prosecutor, Charles LaBella, who was brought in six months ago to revive a drifting campaign finance inquiry, is preparing to return to San Diego as interim U.S. attorney. His comments were made in a meeting on Wednesday evening called by Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Fred Thompson of Tennessee to discuss the future of the inquiry, law enforcement officials said. Eric Holder, the deputy attorney general, also attended.

LaBella told the senators that he was preparing a report for Reno assessing an array of evidence amassed since he arrived in October, and that he would detail previously undisclosed information, law enforcement officials said. LaBella has never publicly stated his views on the appointment of an independent prosecutor, nor has he yet concluded whether, in his final report, he will again recommend such an appointment, said these officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But several officials expected his report almost certainly to force Reno to reconsider the question.

Reno has refused to appoint on independent prosecutor on campaign finance, despite more than a year of intense pressure from Republican lawmakers who have complained that the Clinton Justice Department cannot credibly investigate possible illegalities involving the re-election of the president.

Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, declined to comment on the meeting with LaBella. Thompson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, which held lengthy hearings on the campaign finance issue, has expressed concern that the loss of LaBella's leadership might set back the investigation.

Pub Date: 5/03/98

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