Reno weighs push to appoint counsel in finance probe Former aide recommends picking outside prosecutor

July 24, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Janet Reno and her top advisers are weighing a strong recommendation from the former head of the inquiry into illegal campaign donations that she turn over the probe to an independent counsel.

In a report summarizing his analysis of the law and facts he gathered as lead prosecutor in the investigation, Charles G. LaBella has intensified political pressure on Reno to change her position and recommend appointment of an outside prosecutor to explore evidence against high-level government officials and Democratic Party fund-raisers.

Added to an earlier recommendation by FBI Director Louis J. Freeh that the Justice Department step aside, LaBella's report shows that two of the attorney general's most trusted investigators agree with Republican critics that the time is overdue for an outside prosecutor to take over the politically charged case.

The recommendation by LaBella, now acting U.S. attorney in San Diego, immediately produced a request for him, Freeh and James V. Desarno Jr., the FBI's chief political fund-raising investigator, to testify next Thursday before the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, which is chaired by Republican Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana.

Confirming that she was reviewing LaBella's report, which was submitted July 16, Reno said: "I review all new information or conclusions or anything that is relevant to the issue of whether an independent counsel should be appointed and the statute triggered. When I determine that it is triggered, I will trigger it."

Reno made clear at her weekly briefing for reporters that she also would consult other department officials, who have counseled against appointing an independent counsel.

"There are a range of lawyers within the department who have had long experience with the Independent Counsel Act," Reno said. "What we do is hear from everybody, not just one lawyer, but everybody. And we make sure that we try to consider all arguments and reach the best decision."

While the report does not recommend the investigation of specific individuals, it does analyze the activities of top government officials and their knowledge of possible wrongdoing, including President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, former deputy White House chief of staff Harold M. Ickes, and others involved in Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign.

Pub Date: 7/24/98

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