FBI Blamed for Delayed Review of Clinton CallsBy Brian Duffy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Mon., Sept. 22, 1997; Page A01
Records of President Clinton's White House fund-raising calls that caused Attorney General Janet Reno to take the first step in a process that could lead to appointment of an independent counsel were turned over to a Justice Department task force several months ago.
But they were not examined by department attorneys until a few days ago because of confused document-handling procedures, government officials said yesterday.
The officials said the records pertained to "a handful" of calls although they said the number may be considerably larger made by Clinton over an unspecified period of time before last year's election and that Reno ordered the review to determine whether any money generated by the calls was placed in strictly regulated campaign accounts, which would be a violation of federal law.
Officials said that while there were several reasons for the delays in reviewing the records, the main reason was problems the FBI had in sorting, identifying and analyzing the contents of hundreds of thousands of pages of documents obtained during the early months of the investigation, which began late last year.
"Of the vast number of documents that the investigation obtained . . . as of this day, some have not yet been classified and reviewed because of problems in the FBI's document-handling system," a senior government official said.
Another official added that most of the records obtained by the task force were physically maintained in the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover headquarters building and that task force attorneys did not have ready access to them.
A third official said the documents were scanned into several differing computer systems, making review and analysis more difficult. This official said that Justice Department complaints about document-handling problems were "a constant."
"For an investigation this important," the official said, "there are an awful lot of things that have not been handled as well as they could have been, support-wise."
Publicly available records show that in at least two instances, individuals listed on fund-raising call sheets prepared for Clinton contributed money to the Democratic National Committee for general party-building activities, but some of the money was improperly deposited into accounts reserved for use by the Clinton-Gore campaign.
Rahm Emanuel, a senior White House policy adviser, said yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition" that Clinton does not recall having made any fund-raising phone calls. "As he's stated . . . he may have. He may not have," Emanuel said, adding that the White House is cooperating fully with the Justice Department review.
The Justice Department announced on Saturday Reno's decision to open a review of Clinton's fund-raising calls. Reno must decide at the end of 30 days whether to initiate a 90-day preliminary investigation, a step she is legally required to take before she can recommend appointment of an independent counsel.
Returning to Washington yesterday from San Francisco, Clinton told reporters on his plane that "I don't really know anything about" the review ordered by Reno.
Reno's order came two weeks after she opened a similar review of Vice President Gore's White House fund-raising solicitations and the same week she announced the appointment of a new prosecutor and FBI agent to lead the task force investigation.
Reno said her decision to order the review of Gore's activities was prompted by a Sept. 3 story in The Washington Post that said more than $100,000 of largely unregulated "soft money" campaign contributions he solicited was placed into more strictly regulated "hard money" accounts. Hard money can be used directly in individual campaigns while soft money cannot be used to directly advocate the election of any candidate for federal office. Misreporting donations of hard and soft money can be prosecuted as a criminal offense under the Federal Election Commission Act.
Several senior Republicans said yesterday that Reno's decisions to initiate formal reviews of Clinton's and Gore's fund-raising efforts would force her to seek an independent counsel to further investigate those and other Democratic efforts to raise campaign contributions during last year's elections.
"There is specific and credible evidence sufficient for the attorney general of the United States to request the appointment of an independent counsel tomorrow," Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press." "She should do it tomorrow. She doesn't have to wait for 30 days."
Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, agreed, saying Reno now "has no other choice" but to seek an independent counsel.
Reno has been under pressure from Republicans to recommend an independent counsel to investigate Democratic fund-raising practices. But she has resisted for months saying "career professionals" at the Justice Department could review the matter properly and that they would inform her when and if they encountered "specific and credible" evidence suggesting illegal activity by high government officials.
Emanuel, speaking after his television interview, said that Republicans "shouldn't be pressuring her and making political charges. Her decision will be based upon the law. And it needs to be free of political pressure."
Staff writers Roberto Suro, in Washington, and John F. Harris, in New York, contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company