- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2000

Rep. Dan Burton, chairman of a House panel probing Democratic fund-raising abuses in the 1996 presidential campaign, yesterday vowed to refer President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and Attorney General Janet Reno for prosecution if Texas Gov. George W. Bush is elected president.

In appearances on NBC's "Meet the Press" and "Fox News Sunday," the Indiana Republican said Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore knew of illegal campaign contributions from foreign donors. Miss Reno, he said, shielded them from legal scrutiny by failing to seek an independent counsel to investigate their activities.

"I think that borders on obstruction of justice," Mr. Burton, chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, said on Fox.

He went much further on NBC. "I believe that Janet Reno … and her chief lieutenants knew that the [now-defunct] independent counsel statute mandated that they appoint an independent counsel, and they didn't do it," Mr. Burton told Tim Russert.

"If she did not appoint an independent counsel because she thought her job was in jeopardy, even though the law required it, she broke the law and obstructed justice," the congressman said.

"After this election, assuming we get a new attorney general, I think I will be sending criminal referrals. The reason that I'm waiting is because I don't think this Justice Department is going to do anything," he said on NBC.

Mr. Burton was later asked specifically if he will send a "criminal referral urging the indictment of Bill Clinton and Al Gore" if Mr. Bush, the presumptive Republican nominee, is elected president in November.

"Yeah," he replied, and added Miss Reno's name to the list. "I think Janet Reno has blocked for the president, as have her top officials over at the Justice Department. I think they've made a mockery of justice."

White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, interviewed on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," countered that Mr. Burton's comments are designed to harm Mr. Gore in the presidential race against Mr. Bush.

"I think it's becoming a smaller and smaller group of Americans who actually pay attention to people like Chairman Burton, whose main purpose, I think, is really to try to do political damage to the vice president in the upcoming election," said Mr. Podesta, the president's top adviser.

Mr. Burton's appearances on Sunday-morning political talk shows followed his committee's release last week of unedited versions of 2- and 3-year-old reports in which FBI Director Louis Freeh and prosecutor Charles LaBella, former head of the Justice Department's Campaign Finance Task Force, recommended the appointment of an independent counsel to probe Mr. Gore's fund-raising practices. Miss Reno had refused to release the documents, in which her decision not to seek an independent counsel was sharply criticized.

The memos made public by the the House committee also suggested Mr. Gore may have lied to campaign-finance task force investigators when he denied knowing that 1996 donations he solicited from his White House office were illegally diverted to the Democratic National Committee.

Documents released by the committee cast doubt on Mr. Gore's claim that he did not know soft-money contributions he solicited were transformed into hard money by the DNC meaning they were used for specific candidates' campaigns. Notes from a November 1995 White House meeting, which Mr. Gore attended, indicate the subject was discussed there.

Mr. Gore was not on the talk shows yesterday, but a number of others familiar with the fund-raising scandal were. They included Mr. LaBella and Lee Radek, a career prosecutor who heads the Justice Department's public integrity section.

Mr. Radek, who followed Mr. Burton on "Meet the Press," is an adviser to Miss Reno on independent counsel matters. Unlike Mr. Freeh and Mr. LaBella, Mr. Radek did not believe appointment of an independent counsel was warranted to investigate campaign finance irregularities by Mr. Gore and Mr. Clinton.

On NBC yesterday, Mr. Radek said Justice investigators who looked into the campaign fund-raising charges did not find evidence of wrongdoing that met the legal requirements for appointment of an outside investigator.

As for Mr. Gore's claim that he knew nothing of DNC plans to use soft money he raised in candidates' campaigns, Mr. Radek said, "Clearly there was some evidence that he may have known that what he said was false."

At the same time, the prosecutor said, only two of the 15 persons who attended the White House meeting with Mr. Gore in November 1995 recall hearing the information Mr. Gore denies hearing. "The other 13 did not," said Mr. Radek.

The Justice section chief also denied that he told two FBI agents he was "under pressure" not to recommend an independent counsel, because such a decision would leave Miss Reno's job "hanging in the balance."

"I'm sure I did not. It wouldn't have been true. I did not feel any pressure because of the attorney general's job status," Mr. Radek said. He added that he has to assume someone misunderstood him.

"I certainly don't remember the conversation [with the two FBI agents], but the fact is the public integrity section was under a lot of pressure at the time," he said.

"We were under pressure from the Congress, from the press, and particularly from the attorney general, who's a tough taskmaster, to do a good job."

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