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Prosecutor Urges Special Counsel (Washington Post, July 24, 1998)

Report May Fuel Debate on Fund-Raising Probe (Washington Post, July 23, 1998)

Reno Unmoved in Senate Grilling (Washington Post, July 16, 1998)

Justice Dept. Defies House Subpoena for Probe Memos

By Roberto Suro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 28, 1998; Page A08

In defiance of a congressional subpoena, the Justice Department yesterday declined to turn over two memorandums recommending that Attorney General Janet Reno appoint an independent counsel in the campaign finance investigation.

The House Government Reform and Oversight Committee demanded the documents as it prepared to hold hearings during which Republicans have promised they again will criticize Reno's refusal to seek an outside prosecutor for the probe of the 1996 Clinton campaign.

As an alternative to turning over the documents, the Justice Department offered committee members detailed briefings on the contents of the memos. The offer was rejected by committee Chairman Dan Burton (R-Ind.), who said in a statement yesterday as the deadline for compliance with the subpoenas passed that he planned to start procedures today to bring a contempt citation against Reno.

The documents are a 27-page memorandum to Reno by FBI Director Louis J. Freeh last November and a longer document delivered to Reno 10 days ago by Charles G. LaBella, the outgoing chief prosecutor of the Justice Department task force investigating campaign finance irregularities. Both documents find sufficient indications of wrongdoing by senior Democratic Party and White House officials to justify the appointment of an independent counsel, according to officials familiar with their contents.

"Because of the ongoing criminal investigation into the matters that are the subject of the memoranda, we are unable to provide the documents that you request at this time," said a letter to Burton yesterday by L. Anthony Sutin, acting assistant attorney general for legislative affairs.

"Our position is based principally on the longstanding Department policy of declining to provide congressional committees with access to nonpublic information on open law enforcement investigations," the letter said.

A joint letter from Reno and Freeh explaining the department's position in greater detail will be delivered to the committee today, said Bert Brandenburg, the department's chief spokesman. Both Reno and Freeh "are strongly opposed" to turning over the memorandums, he said.

Reno last week declined to comment on LaBella's report, saying, "I want to do everything that I can to make sure the investigation is conducted the right way, that I do nothing that will discourage others from coming forward to give their views, to dissent, to openly discuss issues."

Burton rejected the department's arguments, saying in his statement yesterday that the reasons given for not turning over the documents are "neither straightforward nor sincere." He noted that the committee's subpoena issued last Friday excluded grand jury information.

In December, Burton demanded Freeh's memo but settled for the same kind of briefing offered in response to his latest request. At that time the committee did not issue a subpoena, choosing to negotiate with the department.

Burton said yesterday he would meet with committee members today "with a view to bringing a contempt citation" against Reno. A motion to issue such a citation must first be approved by a majority of the committee and would then go to the full House, where it would have to get endorsement in a floor vote.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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