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  • Independent Counsels at a Glance

  •   Holder Says Counsel Law Needs Repair

    By Michael J. Sniffen
    Associated Press
    Friday, February 19, 1999; Page A08

    Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who is supervising the Justice Department's review of the Independent Counsel Act, advocated some changes yesterday to fix problems with the Watergate-inspired law.

    "It is a statute that has some problems and needs some work, I think at a minimum," Holder told a news conference. Because the law expires this summer, "we have an opportunity . . . at a minimum, to tinker with it," he added.

    Holder would not identify any problems with the act or what changes he believes would remedy them. His boss, Attorney General Janet Reno, has said several times she would like to see an amendment that forces independent counsels to live within budgets, like everyone else in government.

    Holder is heading a Justice Department study group that is reviewing the experience with the law and will make recommendations to Reno in a week to 10 days. "At this point, I don't think I can safely say that anything has been ruled out" as a possible administration position, Holder said.

    "We've considered a number of options," Holder said. "Everything from having the act repassed in its present form to simply letting it lapse, and we've considered everything in between."

    Holder said he expected the Clinton administration to settle on a formal recommendation either before he testifies about the act before a House subcommittee next week or before Reno appears in mid-March at a Senate committee hearing on the act.

    Sen. Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.), chairman of that panel, has lately predicted the law's demise. Republicans have been angry over Reno's refusal to ask that an independent counsel take over the Justice Department investigation of campaign financing during the 1996 presidential election.

    Reno has sought seven independent counsels to investigate top administration officials over 10 different matters -- more than any of her predecessors. Some Justice Department officials have been dismayed by what they consider overreaching by some of these counsels.

    Some Democrats in Congress, angered over the conduct of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr in investigating President Clinton, have urged limiting or even killing the act.

    The American Bar Association, long a supporter of the law, voted recently to recommend its demise.

    Officials have said the Justice Department has informed Starr that it intends to open an investigation of his dealings with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky, whose affair with the president led to his impeachment and Senate trial at which he was acquitted of charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

    Justice Department officials have said they are concerned about allegations that Starr's deputies broke department rules by offering Lewinsky immunity on condition she not discuss it with her attorney and that Starr and his aides may have had contacts with lawyers for Paula Jones, who was suing Clinton for sexual harassment, that were not disclosed when he obtained Reno's approval to investigate the Lewinsky case, officials have said.

    Starr has defended his office's conduct and argued that any such inquiry should be conducted by an outsider rather than the department's internal watchdog agency, the Office of Professional Responsibility.

    Holder refused to confirm any investigation of Starr.

    "I wouldn't want to comment on whether or not we are doing an investigation, where we stand in making that decision, but we would leave all of our options open as to who might do such an investigation if one were to be done," Holder said.

    © Copyright The Associated Press

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