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Hatch Unhappy With Reno Over Clinton, Gore Probes

By Roberto Suro and George Lardner Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 11, 1997; Page A06

The Justice Department has inquiries underway to determine whether Clinton and Gore may have violated a law prohibiting campaign fund-raising on federal property by soliciting money from their White House offices. Deciding how to apply the law has become a major issue in the inquiries because no one has ever been charged with a crime under these circumstances.

White House officials have cited the absence of any prior prosecutions as one of several reasons that Reno should go no further with the inquiries. Reno could seek the appointment of an independent counsel if she finds there is enough suspicion of a crime to merit full-scale investigation.

Hatch said in his letter that he would not dismiss the argument that Clinton and Gore were, at most, guilty of "technical violations" of the law, which usually are not prosecuted.

"Such discretion may indeed be appropriate, to the extent it has been and would be similarly exercised in other cases," Hatch wrote to Reno. "Given the obvious conflict of interest, however, it should be an independent counsel, and not you, who exercises such discretion."

Reno took a major step in the independent counsel process last Friday when she opened a preliminary investigation into Gore's calls, citing both unanswered questions of fact and unresolved legal issues. She must decide by Wednesday whether to open a similar investigation of Clinton. At any point, Reno could seek an independent counsel simply on the basis that further investigation is needed to resolve the legal issues.

"Every single investigation and prosecution the Justice Department does involves prosecutorial discretion, and the Independent Counsel Act was simply not designed to eliminate that factor," said Bert Brandenburg, the Justice Department spokesman. "Otherwise, we would close for business and send every case to an independent counsel."

Hatch's letter was an angry complaint over what he sees as the tardiness and inadequacy of Reno's response to questions he posed to her during an oversight hearing April 30. Reno replied this week.

One of Hatch's questions sought a listing of all prosecutions for soliciting campaign funds from federal property. Reno replied: "Our case records are not readily searchable for information of the sort you have requested."

Hatch noted that it has been a year since controversy over fund-raising at the White House first developed and nearly seven months since the Judiciary Committee sought a statement of Justice Department policy. He complained that Reno "inexplicably and inexcusably" had failed to answer the committee's query.

Meanwhile, the White House said yesterday that it hoped to turn over the remaining videotapes of President Clinton's White House political events by Tuesday. The belated production of 44 such tapes last weekend produced loud protests from Reno and congressional Republicans.

© Copyright 1997 The Associated Press

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