- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2000

Sen. Arlen Specter said yesterday his Senate subcommittee will seek to question FBI Director Louis J. Freeh about the burgeoning campaign finance scandal even if he has to be ordered to submit.

"I'm determined to bring FBI Director Freeh in, to be subpoenaed if necessary," the Pennsylvania Republican said yesterday on ABC's "This Week."

Mr. Specter heads a Judiciary Committee panel investigating the Justice Department's han dling of the probe into illegal campaign donations in 1996.

Attorney General Janet Reno is set to testify tomorrow before the subcommittee. Members are expected to ask her why she ignored recommendations from Mr. Freeh and two other Justice Department career prosecutors, all of whom urged her to seek an outside prosecutor to investigate Clinton-Gore fund-raising practices.

On ABC, Mr. Specter said Mr. Freeh "needs to testify about a very critical memorandum" from December 1996 that had been kept from the committee.

"I think that the FBI director and I'll be very blunt about this did not act properly in concealing the memo … which showed a key man in the Justice Department told the FBI that the attorney general was under a lot of pressure" not to seek an independent counsel.

Last week, Mr. Specter stirred up a hornet's nest when he disclosed that Robert Conrad, the current chairman of Justice's Campaign Finance Task Force, is urging Miss Reno to seek a special prosecutor to probe whether Mr. Gore lied under oath when he said he did not know a 1995 campaign event he attended at a Buddhist temple was a fund-raiser.

The event raised more than $65,000 in illegal donations for the Democratic Party, but Mr. Gore has said he did not know it was a fund-raiser. The next day, Mr. Gore released a 123-page transcript of an April 18 interview with Mr. Conrad in which he stated, "I sure as hell don't recall having I sure as hell did not have any conversations with anyone saying this is a fund-raising event."

The former head of the Justice task force, Charles G. Labella, appeared on two political talk shows yesterday. Both he and Mr. Specter predicted Miss Reno will reject calls for a special prosecutor to investigate Mr. Gore.

"I don't think she will recommend a special counsel, because I don't think her analysis is going to change from the last three or four times she's reviewed this," Mr. LaBella said on "Fox News Sunday."

He said failure to appoint a special prosecutor is a mistake. While acknowledging the investigation may show no violations occurred, Mr. LaBella said the issues need to be examined so Americans can be satisfied they have been "looked at and laid to rest by someone who is not attached to the administration."

Mr. Specter has been criticized for "leaking" the information about Mr. Conrad's recommendation regarding Mr. Gore. His timing also has been questioned, given that he made the announcement in the middle of Mr. Gore's presidential campaign. Some Gore supporters believe he did so to help Mr. Gore's Republican rival, Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

"The real question is for the Bush campaign: Were they involved in this leak? Did they work with Senator Specter … it's a serious question they need to answer," Gore campaign adviser Ron Klain said yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition."

Mr. Specter denies the charge. "It's an old approach to make countercharges against the messenger. My record is a very strong one in the Senate for some 20 years on bipartisanship and on running objective inquiries… . Listen, let's face the facts. I've not said that the vice president has done anything wrong. What I have said is that there is a basis for an independent counsel," he said on ABC.

Mr. Specter said it is "obviously an enormous embarrassment" for the Justice Department that it had "never questioned" Mr. Gore about the Buddhist temple until April 18. That was two days before the previously unreleased memos from Mr. Freeh and Mr. LaBella were to be delivered to Mr. Specter's subcommittee, which had subpoenaed them.

Mr. Specter told ABC the reason Justice investigators finally acted was "because our subcommittee was pushing to get answers."

As for the accusations of "leaking," Mr. Specter said, "It's not a leak when it's an official Judiciary Committee investigation. And bear this in mind: my subcommittee brought in Robert Conrad, the chief campaign finance lawyer, and we asked him the questions [at a public hearing].

"And when he refused to answer, it was my judgment that that [information] ought to be in the public domain so that there would be public accountability," Mr. Specter said. He noted he has been "questioning the attorney general about this subject for three years."

Cokie Roberts, co-host of "This Week" on ABC television, asked the Pennsylvania Republican about speculation Mr. Freeh was the source of the leak, based on rumors the FBI director has been asking senators that he not be called to testify at the judiciary committee hearings.

"Well, he didn't tell me … let me put it that way," said Mr. Specter.

He said he wants Mr. Freeh at the hearings to testify about why he "concealed" a memo dealing with two FBI agents who told Congress that Lee Radek, chief of Justice's public integrity section, told them in late 1996 that Miss Reno was facing job pressure not to seek an independent counsel.

Mr. Radek says he does not recall such a conversation with the FBI agents in question, and he denies Miss Reno's job was in jeopardy.

But Mr. Specter says he has a lot of questions about the episode. "I intend to ask Attorney General Reno about that. And I'd press to have Director Freeh sitting right beside her. I want to know what the truth is," Mr. Specter said.

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