Reno Decides to Expand Investigation of GoreBy Roberto Suro and Bob Woodward
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 3, 1997; Page A01
Attorney General Janet Reno has decided to take the next step in a legal process that could lead to an independent counsel investigation of Vice President Gore's White House fund-raising solicitations before last year's election, government officials said yesterday.
Reno's decision to open a 60-day preliminary investigation of Gore's fund-raising calls was based on procedures outlined in the Independent Counsel Act, which requires the attorney general to conduct such an inquiry when the Justice Department encounters unresolved allegations that top administration or campaign officials may have committed a criminal act.
Ginny Terzano, Gore's spokeswoman, said last night that the vice president had not been notified of Reno's decision but that he and his attorneys, who have been talking regularly with Justice Department officials, were not surprised by it.
"We would not be surprised if the Justice Department decided to go to an extended review," Terzano said, "because there simply has not been enough time in 30 days for them to fully explore this matter."
A government official said that Reno had made no final decision on ordering a similar review of President Clinton's White House fund-raising solicitations but that such a decision was considered unlikely because Justice Department investigators had so far uncovered no evidence that the calls violated federal law. Reno must decide whether to order such a review of Clinton's fund-raising efforts by Oct. 15.
Last month, Reno ordered the Justice Department to conduct a 30-day review of Gore's White House calls. Gore aides have provided records showing he made at least 46 fund-raising phone calls from his White House office. The review ordered by Reno was to determine whether the calls violated the 114-year-old Pendleton Act, which covers fund-raising by government officials on federal property. A second issue under study is whether any federal laws were broken when money raised by the Gore calls was deposited into strictly regulated accounts designed for use directly by candidates and campaigns.
Gore acknowledged after news reports last March that he had called donors from his White House office seeking funds for the 1996 election. But the White House said he was seeking loosely regulated "soft money" that went to Democratic Party coffers, not "hard money" to directly support Clinton-Gore reelection efforts. The Justice Department does not consider it illegal to raise soft money from federal buildings. Last month, though, The Washington Post reported that some money Gore solicited actually was routed into hard money accounts. Reno immediately announced she was reviewing Gore's calls.
Ordinarily, the 30-day review ordered by Reno would be followed by a 90-day preliminary investigation if the attorney general was advised by her investigators that further evidence still had to be gathered. Reno said yesterday at her weekly news conference that she was still "asking questions as I go" about the fund-raising calls made by Gore from his White house office.
A senior government official said last night that Reno had decided to open a preliminary investigation of only 60 days because Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, had sent her a letter last month demanding such an inquiry. Justice Department officials said the letter, because it was signed by a majority of the committee's Republicans, met the standard required for initiating a review of the Gore calls under the Independent Counsel Act.
A government official said last night that Reno's decision represented a mixture of "honey and vinegar" for Gore honey because the preliminary investigation would be shorter than the 90 days ordinarily ordered in such circumstances, vinegar because the investigation had to be carried to the next stage.
Under the law, Reno must decide at the end of the preliminary investigation whether to recommend appointment of an independent counsel to the three-judge federal appeals court panel that makes such an appointment, seek an extension or drop the inquiry.
Reno's decision ordering the preliminary investigation of the Gore calls will be conveyed today to the panel of judges and to Hyde, officials said yesterday.
The Hyde letter, signed by all 20 GOP members of the committee, was the second time the panel had urged Reno to seek appointment of an independent counsel. The first failed to persuade Reno to take such action. The letter sent last month cited allegations raised in numerous news accounts about the possibility of criminal charges ranging from bribery to mail and wire fraud by officials covered by the Independent Counsel Act. The preliminary investigation Reno will open today will only concern Gore's phone calls.
The committee members alleged in the letter that some federal laws governing such actions were violated when Democrats received contributions in return for what the Republicans charge were government actions and other favorable treatment for some of those who contributed generously to the Clinton-Gore reelection effort.
Gore recently hired two prominent outside attorneys to represent him while the Justice Department conducts its review of his fund-raising activities during last year's election cycle. George T. Frampton Jr., who served in the first Clinton administration as an assistant secretary of the Interior, and James F. Neal, a Tennessee litigator who served as a federal prosecutor under Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, have maintained regular contact with Justice Department officials reviewing Gore's fund-raising activities, officials said.
Staff writers Susan Schmidt and John F. Harris contributed to this report.
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