Attorney General Janet Reno has asked for appointment of an independent counsel to determine if Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown has violated federal law in his private financial dealings or in his reports of those transactions, the Justice Department said Wednesday.
Reno, announcing the conclusion of a 90-day preliminary inquiry by the FBI, said that a full-scale grand jury investigation by an outside counsel first should consider whether Brown broke any laws “with his acceptance of things of value” from businesswoman Nolanda Hill and a company in which both formerly held an interest.
The investigation also should focus on allegations that Brown filed inaccurate annual financial disclosure reports as a Cabinet member and made false statements on his loan application to purchase a townhouse two years ago, the attorney general said.
Brown - the fourth high official of the Clinton administration, including the president, to be placed under such scrutiny - said he was disappointed by Reno’s action but expressed confidence he would be exonerated.
Brown, the former Democratic National Committee chairman and key player in Clinton’s 1992 election, will be investigated for his business activities chiefly in communications and investments before he joined the Cabinet early in 1993.
Questions have been raised about a large payment he received from Hill, a former business partner, when he severed his ties to their Washington-based First International Communications Corp.
Although Brown invested no money in the venture, Reno said that the buyout of his 50 percent interest brought him nearly $500,000.