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  •   NRA Fires Lobbyist Over Reno Rumor

    By Michael Isikoff
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, March 12, 1993; Page A01

    The chief Capitol Hill lobbyist for the National Rifle Association has been removed from his job after he admitted spreading derogatory and unsubstantiated allegations about Attorney General-designate Janet Reno.

    The removal of David W. Gibbons, the NRA's director of federal affairs, was acknowledged by the gun organization yesterday as the Senate voted 98 to 0 to approve Reno's appointment, making her the final Clinton administration Cabinet secretary to be confirmed. She is scheduled to be sworn in this morning as the first woman to head the Justice Department.

    "We do not traffic in unsubstantiated rumors," said James Jay Baker, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Analysis, who confirmed that Gibbons had "resigned."

    "A lot of people were upset about it," Baker said of Gibbons's activities. "You can agree or disagree with us on the issues, but we like to stick to the facts."

    Gibbons, along with Thomas Jipping, director of the Free Congress Foundation's Center for Law and Democracy, had been among a number of conservative activists who had contacted the Senate Judiciary Committee last month and raised questions about Reno's character.

    Among the stories they spread was that Reno had been stopped on several occasions for drunk driving but received favorable treatment from police and was never charged – an allegation that Reno flatly denied and that an FBI investigation into her background found was without foundation.

    But the circulation of the story among Reno opponents and Republican Senate staff members set in motion a chain of events that bogged down the FBI and Judiciary Committee staff for weeks in a fruitless effort to check out rumors about the nominee. During Reno's confirmation hearing this week and during floor discussion prior to yesterday's vote, Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and the ranking Republican, Orrin G. Hatch (Utah), expressed considerable irritation over the rumor-mongering about Reno.

    Biden said yesterday the committee staff spent "hours and hours" investigating the stories. "This hate-mongering campaign is despicable to my mind," Hatch said when the hearing opened on Tuesday.

    Gibbons, who had supervised the NRA's five congressional lobbyists, could not be reached yesterday for comment. But Baker said he looked into the matter after an article in last week's Roll Call, a weekly newspaper on Capitol Hill, reported that Gibbons had raised the Reno story at a regular Wednesday meeting of conservative Republican staff members, telling the aides, "I've heard rumors to the effect that Janet Reno has got DUI {driving under the influence} problems."

    "It was a mistake in judgment," Baker said.

    The NRA had earlier sent out a bulletin to its members describing Reno, who was elected five times as prosecutor in Dade County, Fla., as a "hard core anti-gun zealot" because of her stands in favor of gun control. She supports the Brady bill, which would mandate a waiting period on the purchase of handguns, and a ban on the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons.

    In addition, a Dade County grand jury report drafted with the aid of Reno's office last year called for even more drastic measures, including the registration of all firearms and the licensing of gun owners – steps that Reno declined to endorse during her confirmation hearing.

    But Baker said the NRA differed with Reno only "on the issues," and it was "not a question of personal integrity." After hearing the rumors about Reno, "the proper thing {for Gibbons} to do would have been to pass it on to the agency" charged with investigating such matters, the FBI, and "not to talk to anyone else," Baker said.

    But some congressional Republicans have expressed puzzlement over the NRA's actions, insisting that Gibbons's activities were no different than those of liberal activists who actively opposed the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas two years ago by raising questions about Thomas's character. One Senate Republican staff member, who asked not to be named, acknowledged that Gibbons had told him about the rumor but added: "I really think it's unfair to tag Dave with being a disseminator of dirt. He was very clear he didn't know if it was true, he didn't know if it could be corroborated."

    © Copyright 1993 The Washington Post Company

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