October 3, 1997 in Nation/World

Reno Widens Investigation Into Gore Calls But Ag Rejects Gop’s Request For Clinton-Related Prosecutor

David Johnston New York Times

Attorney General Janet Reno has decided to expand the Justice Department’s inquiry of Vice President Al Gore’s fund-raising telephone calls, moving to the next phase in the process of determining whether to seek an independent prosecutor, government officials said on Thursday.

The attorney general also has rejected the need for an independent prosecutor to investigate other White House fund-raising practices involving President Clinton - including coffees with Clinton and stays in the Lincoln bedroom for top Democratic donors, the officials said.

Her decisions are contained in a letter to be sent today to House Republicans who have demanded for months that she seek the independent counsel and move the investigation outside the Justice Department.

The letter does not say whether she will undertake a similar expansion of the investigation into Clinton’s telephone solicitations. His calls are the subject of a 30-day initial review, and Reno must decide whether to expand that inquiry by Oct. 15.

Reno’s decision comes at a time when Clinton and Gore have been trying to shift focus of the campaign finance debate away from themselves and toward Republican opposition to a bill languishing in Congress that would change some political fund-raising rules.

Still, her decision to widen the inquiry of Gore’s telephone solicitations is unlikely to dampen the furor in Congress, where Republicans have demanded for months that Reno appoint an independent prosecutor to examine the long list of questionable fund-raising practices used by Democrats in the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign.

Gore and his advisers have seemed resigned to the decision. The vice president’s aides have said an expanded inquiry would give them an opportunity to present Justice Department lawyers with information showing that he did not break the century-old law that limits fund raising by government officials on federal property. That law is at the heart of the department’s inquiry.

As the Justice Department prepared to advise Gore of the inquiry’s extension, Republicans criticized the vice president for getting free legal advice on campaign finance issues under scrutiny.

James Neal, a former Watergate prosecutor who practices in Nashville, Tenn., said he was providing his services to Gore without charge, saying the practice was legal and ethical under federal regulations, which permit officials like the vice president to receive gifts from family or personal friends.

But after the Republican National Committee circulated a letter from Neal to Gore declaring Neal’s intention of working on a “pro bono basis,” James Nicholson, the committee chairman, criticized the vice president for exercising poor judgment.

Reno’s letter is a reply to one on Sept. 3 from Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois and other Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee. Under the independent prosecutor statute, if Reno receives a request from more than half the members of the majority party on the Judiciary Committee, she must respond in writing to their complaint within a month.

Hyde’s letter, signed by 19 other Republicans, outlined alleged wrongdoing by Democrats during the presidential campaign.

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