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From The Post
Basic Conflict Impeded Justice Probe of Fund-Raising (Oct. 3)

Campaign Reform's Fate on Fence (Oct. 3)

Reno Decides to Expand Investigation of Gore (Oct. 3)

Huge Archive: Sore Point for Investigators

By Susan Schmidt and Roberto Suro
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 3, 1997; Page A25

On the Friday before Election Day, Lee J. Radek, head of the Public Integrity Section, called a meeting to discuss how the Justice Department should respond to demands, which had first come from the advocacy group Common Cause and now were coming from congressional Republicans, that an independent counsel investigate apparent fund-raising irregularities in the 1996 presidential campaign.

Reports in newspapers and in a book by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward had raised suggestions that Democratic fund-raisers – some of them Asian Americans – had solicited and collected funds from foreigners ineligible to contribute, and that Clinton-Gore campaign officials might have inappropriately spent from Democratic National Committee accounts.

Within days a task force, initially four prosecutors and a paralegal, was assigned to look into the allegations. At its head was Laura Ingersoll, a midlevel prosecutor who had edited the Justice Department handbook on the prosecution of election law violations.

Four weeks later, Ingersoll reported back to Radek with a summary of the allegations. Radek and other top officials decided that some were credible enough to merit a criminal investigation. Attorney General Janet Reno was informed, and what had been a temporary task force became official.

Mark M. Richard, a veteran Criminal Division attorney with broad experience in intelligence issues and international legal affairs, assumed supervisory duty along with Radek. FBI Director Louis J. Freeh assigned a team of agents, headed by Jeffrey Lampinski, a veteran supervisor who had been in charge of the New Orleans Field Office.

Just before Christmas, the task force set up shop in three big rooms in the Washington Center, an outbuilding located a few blocks from the Justice Department. Ingersoll's tiny staff included attorneys only recently assigned to the Public Integrity Section from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District, where they had prosecuted street crimes. Several of the FBI agents and analysts attached to the task force were relatively junior, while others worked on 30-day temporary assignments.

As the year began, the task force started assembling documents from the White House, the DNC and scores of potential witnesses. By March, the archive had more than 800,000 items.

How to manage the documents became a source of friction between the FBI and the prosecutors almost immediately.

Justice Department attorneys complained that FBI managers were preoccupied with the mechanics of processing the documents – many of them hard-to-decipher handwritten notes – rather than focusing on the information they contained. The FBI analysts, some with little knowledge of what they were reviewing, were scanning, stamping, sorting and filing. But they were not flagging important documents for the task force.

Meanwhile, none of the lawyers or the FBI agents directly involved in the investigation routinely read the documents that were being sorted. The attorneys complained that the FBI agents always wanted to go after new information but were lax about digesting what they had already accumulated. The FBI countered that the prosecutors were unwilling to pursue the possibility of a big breakthrough that was staring them in the face.

The information management issue became a major topic of discussion at weekly meetings held by Richard and other top Criminal Division officials to review the work of the task force. And, although it seems largely a logistical question, it was never fully resolved; no review of the ever-increasing pile of sorted documents has been completed.

In Senate testimony April 30, Reno said she was "personally monitoring [the task force] closely and regularly. I regularly ask: Do you have enough staff, both in terms of agents and lawyers?"

Many involved in the task force's work agree that much time was lost and that many important records never got reviewed. Among them were the documents relating to Vice President Gore's telephone solicitations that last month prompted Reno to begin the independent counsel review that must be concluded by today.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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