Associated Press
Feb. 2, 1999

Justice Differs On Outside Prosecutor

WASHINGTON - The two top prosecutors in the Justice Department investigation of Democratic campaign financing split over whether the allegations merit a special prosecutor, a Republican critic said Tuesday.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said the senior deputies to Attorney General Janet Reno reached opposite conclusions and prepared competing memorandums.

Hatch, who has repeatedly accused Reno of foot-dragging on the politically sensitive topic of possible White House campaign abuses during the 1996 election, also said Reno is edging closer to his belief that an independent counsel is warranted. "She's getting there in her own way," Hatch said one day before a scheduled meeting with Reno.

Reno last week approved a second 90-day investigation related to Vice President Al Gore's White House fund-raising activities that could lead to an independent counsel. A separate, informal investigation of former White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes could also wind up before an independent counsel.

Hatch invited Reno and the former chief of her campaign finance task force, Charles LaBella, to a private meeting Wednesday in Hatch's office. Several other legislators and LaBella's deputy, Lee Radek, are also scheduled to attend.

"We expect to learn a lot," Hatch said.

LaBella gave Reno a detailed argument for appointing an independent counsel before he left the job in July. The LaBella memo followed a similar recommendation months earlier from FBI Director Louis Freeh.

"Radek reviewed the (LaBella) memorandum and wrote a counter memorandum," which was followed by yet another memo from LaBella recommending an independent counsel, Hatch said.

Justice Department spokesman Bert Brandenburg would not confirm Hatch's account.

Reno and Justice Department officials have acknowledged that opinions differ about the independent counsel question, and Reno has said she is weighing all advice carefully. "She looks for and expects differences of opinion, and seeks them out in order to help her make the best decision," Brandenburg said.

Hatch drew the line more sharply. LaBella, Freeh and the senior FBI agent on the task force, James V. DeSarno Jr., recommended an independent counsel while Radek, senior Reno aide Robert Litt and another lawyer on the task force, Jo Ann Farrington, opposed doing so, Hatch said.

Several of those Hatch named declined to comment or did not return telephone calls requesting comment.

A Justice Department official close to the investigation confirmed the split in general terms and acknowledged the competing memos.

"There's been a lot of paper prepared in this investigation," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I don't think it's our intention to turn over all of it" to legislators.

Last month, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee voted to cite Reno for contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over the Freeh and LaBella memos.

The whole House, which would have to act before Reno could be cited for contempt, has not yet addressed the matter.

By The Associated Press

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