A Justice Department task force will recommend that the department continue its investigation into Vice President Al Gore’s fund-raising telephone calls, several officials said Wednesday.
The next stage will last up to 90 days. At the end of that period, Attorney General Janet Reno can ask a special three-judge panel for an independent prosecutor. She also can seek one much more quickly than that.
For the past month, the task force has been investigating whether the vice president’s telephone calls violated the law against raising campaign contributions in federal offices. Reno must decide by Friday whether that investigation turned up specific evidence from a credible source.
One government official familiar with the investigation said the task force has prepared a written recommendation for Reno, but that she has not yet signed it. Officials who confirmed the task force’s recommendation insisted on anonymity.
Justice Department spokesman Bert Brandenburg said only that Reno “has not made a decision herself.” But Reno has been supportive of the career prosecutors on the task force.
The attorney general has been under fire from congressional Republicans, who are insisting on an independent counsel and say she has been moving too slowly. Some Republican lawmakers have threatened to impeach Reno. She also must respond by Friday to a House committee’s letter demanding an independent counsel look into White House fund raising.
Gore has acknowledged making nearly 50 fund-raising telephone calls from his White House office in late 1995 and early 1996, but says his actions were legal.
A similar 30-day review of President Clinton’s fund-raising calls is under way. Clinton has said that he and Gore “believed we were acting within the letter of the law” while raising funds for the 1996 campaign.
White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry played down the importance of an extension of the Gore investigation.
“It would not be unreasonable if the attorney general wanted to take some additional time to review what the law is,” he said.
McCurry also said there would be advantages to a three-month investigation “because you can begin to look at the law and people can present facts so we could dispose of these matters.”
The law governing the raising of contributions in federal offices is complex, and there are differing opinions about whether it applies to the calls made by Gore and Clinton.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said there was enough evidence for Reno to request an independent counsel immediately.
“But, at least, she is moving in the right direction, even if very slowly,” he said.