Reno ponders investigating 1996 Clinton campaign ads Attorney general declines to say if GOP also a target

September 04, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Janet Reno is considering whether to open a third preliminary inquiry related to President Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign, and this time the target could be the president himself.

Justice Department officials confirmed yesterday that Reno last month ordered a fresh examination of issue advertisements and whether Clinton and his re-election team used them to get

around campaign spending limits.

At her weekly news conference, Reno acknowledged that she was examining information related to campaign fund raising recently received by the department. She declined to describe the information, say where it came from or who she was investigating.

"All I can say is we have new information that I cannot comment on," said Reno, who for 18 months has been pilloried by Republicans for refusing to allow an independent counsel to investigate how Democrats financed Clinton's 1996 re-election.

Justice Department spokesman Bert Brandenburg confirmed that the department is investigating issue advocacy ads -- which were used by both political parties during the 1996 presidential campaign -- but he would not say whether the agency's review focuses on Clinton, his campaign or the Democratic Party, or whether it might include the Republican Party.

Justice Department officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Reno is likely to decide next week if there is enough credible information to formally begin a 90-day, preliminary investigation of issue ads and the 1996 campaign, an inquiry that could lead to the appointment of an independent prosecutor.

Clinton's private attorney, David Kendall, reportedly met with Justice Department officials Wednesday to argue that no further investigation was necessary. Kendall reportedly told Justice Department officials that, if a formal inquiry was begun, it should focus on the 1996 campaign organization, not the president.

Kendall could not be reached yesterday.

Reno recently initiated separate, 90-day preliminary investigations into whether Vice President Al Gore misled investigators and whether former White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes lied under oath when they were questioned about their fund-raising roles during the 1996 campaign.

The preliminary investigations of Gore and Ickes were disclosed over the past 10 days after Reno completed an initial review -- similar to the one she is conducting on the use of issue ads -- and notified a three-judge panel that oversees the appointment of independent counsels.

The most recent inquiry involves whether Clinton evaded federal campaign spending limits by orchestrating the televised issue-ad campaigns financed by the Democratic Party and organized labor. The Clinton-Gore campaign agreed to limit its spending to $37 million during the 1996 primary election in return for federal financing during the general election.

The Federal Election Commission reportedly turned over information to the Justice Department from an audit being conducted of Clinton-Gore campaign practices. The Wall Street Journal quoted anonymous sources saying FEC auditors suggest that Clinton and key campaign advisers were so closely involved in creating the issue-ad campaign that the ad costs should be counted against the spending limits.

The White House insisted that Clinton did nothing wrong. "The use of issue ads was entirely legal and appropriate," said White House spokesman James Kennedy.

The ads were designed to alert voters to the Democrats' defense of Medicare and other social programs in 1995, when the programs were targeted by Republicans wanting to reduce federal spending.

Pub Date: 9/04/98

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