- The Washington Times - Monday, November 20, 2000

A Justice Department investigation to determine whether a key department lawyer misled Congress when he denied he was pressured to derail the campaign finance probe is unlikely to lead to charges, law-enforcement authorities said.

Lawyers and federal agents familiar with the probe said they doubted the inquiry's focus, Lee J. Radek, head of Justice's Office of Public Integrity who last month was the winner of the department's top performance award, would be prosecuted.

"Any hopes of a full investigation in light of Mr. Radek's recent receipt of the department's highest criminal division honor are unlikely," said one trial lawyer.

"There's no way the department is going to give this guy its top honor, along with a lot of bonus money, and then turn around and prosecute him," said an agent familiar with the campaign finance probe. "I think the award has made him bulletproof."

"The department's probe of Lee Radek promises to be quicker than instant coffee," said another department lawyer.

The sources, who requested anonymity, said they expected the probe would "quietly disappear" in the wake of the department's Oct. 23 decision to give Mr. Radek the Henry E. Peterson Memorial Award, along with $12,000 in bonuses. The award is considered one of the department's most prestigious, honoring former Watergate prosecutor Henry E. Peterson.

During the ceremony, Mr. Radek was cited for his "remarkable legal abilities" and his "unequivocal knowledge of and experience in corruption cases." He was praised for handling "a multitude of extremely complex and wide-ranging criminal investigations, often under the spotlight of public scrutiny and always subject to immense time pressures."

The Radek inquiry was confirmed last week by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which oversees inquiries into accusations of criminal or ethical misconduct involving Justice Department employees. In a letter, Judith B. Wish, OPR's acting counsel, told the Landmark Legal Foundation, a public-interest law firm that sought the probe in May, that the inquiry would center on statements Mr. Radek made to FBI officials that his office was "under pressure in its investigation into corrupt campaign fund-raising practices during the 1996 election cycle because the attorney general's job hung in the balance."

Mr. Radek has denied ever saying the pressure he faced was related to whether Janet Reno would remain as attorney general. In sworn testimony before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee and the House Judiciary Committee, he said he never made statements to FBI executives that he was under pressure in the campaign finance probe because Miss Reno's job "hung in the balance."

He described FBI statements as having "no basis in fact," adding that while the finance probe was in a "pressure cooker," the pressure he was referring to was to "do a good job, to do it vigorously and do it well" because the department was being scrutinized by Congress, the media and the attorney general.

But former FBI Deputy Director William J. Esposito and FBI Assistant Director Neil J. Gallagher testified that during a 1996 meeting, they heard Mr. Radek say Miss Reno could lose her job if the investigation went forward. Both said under oath Mr. Radek was tying the pressure he felt over the probe to concerns that Miss Reno's job was in jeopardy.

FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, told by his top subordinates of the comments, later met with Miss Reno and suggested that she and Mr. Radek step aside from the investigation. He told Miss Reno the department's public integrity section, headed by Mr. Radek, could not conduct a thorough probe and suggested the matter be handled by the FBI.

In a separate memo, Mr. Freeh said the Justice Department sought to sidestep the use of FBI agents for the campaign finance probe in favor of investigators from the inspector general's office at the Commerce Department.

Miss Reno has said she did not recall the Freeh meeting. In 1996, there was speculation she would not be named for a second term because of her willingness to seek independent counsels in several scandals. Since then, she has resisted similar efforts.

Landmark's president, Mark R. Levin, former chief of staff to Attorney General Edwin Meese, said he was hopeful the OPR investigation would focus on what he described as "serious and substantial questions" involving Mr. Radek, but expressed concern over the Peterson award.

"It certainly doesn't generate confidence in this investigation," he said.

Mr. Radek's handling of the campaign finance probe also was criticized by FBI agents assigned to the case. Last year, agents Ivian C. Smith, Daniel Wehr, Roberta Parker and Kevin Sheridan told a Senate committee that Mr. Radek blocked efforts for a search warrant in the investigation of Charles Yah Lin Trie, a top Democratic fund-raiser, after they learned documents were being destroyed.

Agent Smith, former head of the FBI's Little Rock office, wrote personally to Mr. Freeh to say: "The team at [the Justice Department] leading this investigation is, at best, simply not up to the task."

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