December 4, 1997 in Nation/World

Freeh’s Split With Reno Scores With Congressional Republicans

James Rowley Associated Press
 

FBI Director Louis Freeh’s public disagreement with Attorney General Janet Reno over the campaign fund-raising investigation appears to have shored up his political support among Republicans in Congress, according to administration and congressional officials.

“I think he has got solid support on the Hill.

I wouldn’t limit it to Republicans,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., one of Freeh’s staunchest allies on Capitol Hill. “He enjoys an excellent reputation everywhere.”

Specter said such support would make it difficult for President Clinton to dismiss Freeh, who serves a 10-year term but can be removed by a president for cause.

Indeed, some Justice Department officials have suggested privately that the FBI leaked Freeh’s views on seeking an independent counsel to curry favor with congressional Republicans.

Freeh’s views first were made public last spring at a time when the FBI director was having difficulties with some Republicans on Capitol Hill over his handling of fallout from the siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and over mismanagement at the FBI’s crime lab.

Since then, Freeh and his aides have cultivated their contacts in Congress and have regained the favor the director enjoyed when he took office in 1993, according to congressional aides.

“They have been particularly assiduous in trying to keep their constitency as happy as they can,” said a Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Freeh has a history of dust-ups with high officials in the Justice Department.

He warned Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick that her refusal to let him promote Assistant Director Larry Potts to the No. 2 FBI job of deputy director would permanently damage relations between the bureau and the Justice Department.

Gorelick relented, even though Potts had been disciplined for his failure to provide sufficient management oversight during the Ruby Ridge standoff in 1992.

Later, when cover-up allegations against Potts prompted the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation, Gorelick said that it was she who prompted Freeh to suspend Potts. Freeh aides contended that the director acted alone.

Earlier this year, Freeh clashed with Michael Bromwich, the Justice Department’s inspector general, over testimony Freeh had given Congress about the embattled crime lab. Bromwich took issue with Freeh’s description of how a crime-lab whistleblower was suspended, saying “the inaccuracies in your testimony should be corrected as promptly as possible.”

Freeh acknowledged that his testimony “was incomplete.”

Despite friction between the Justice Department and the FBI, both Reno and Freeh went out of their way to say that despite disagreements on the independent counsel issue, they have a good relationship.

Reno said she regularly consults with Fresh, “whose advice I value highly.”

Freeh said: “I continue to have a strong and amicable relationship” with Reno.

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