- The Washington Times - Monday, July 30, 2001

The head of the Justice Department's Office of Public Integrity, bitterly criticized in Congress for his handling of the government's campaign finance investigation, has been transferred to a new job senior counsel in the department's asset-forfeiture and money-laundering section.

Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, who heads the department's criminal division, announced the transfer of Lee J. Radek late last week as part of a reorganization of the division. The transfer becomes effective Wednesday.

"New leadership brings with it fresh ideas and an invigorated sense of purpose," Mr. Chertoff said. "This management team has the experience and vision to lead the criminal division as it faces a variety of challenges, from the growth of new technologies to the expanding globalization of crime."

Andrew Lourie, a career prosecutor and currently the chief of the major prosecution section in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida, will serve as acting section chief for Public Integrity.

Mr. Radek came under fire in Congress after he vigorously opposed the appointment of independent counsels in the campaign finance task force probe, including an investigation of then-Vice President Al Gore.

At one point, FBI Director Louis J. Freeh suggested Mr. Radek recuse himself from the task force probe after Mr. Radek told agents he was "under a lot of pressure not to go forward with the investigation" because Attorney General Janet Reno's job "might hang in the balance."

Mr. Freeh said Mr. Radek's office was not capable of conducting a thorough investigation and he should recuse himself in favor of aggressive outside investigators.

Mr. Radek also ordered federal prosecutors just before the 1996 presidential election to stop an investigation into suspected illegal fund raising by Mr. Gore at a California Buddhist temple. He said in a Nov. 1, 1996, cease and desist order that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles "should take no further steps to investigate these matters at this time."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen A. Mansfield immediately shut down the probe and turned over the case to officials in Washington. The Radek order said that since outside counsel might be named, the inquiry would have to stop. No independent counsel was ever sought.

In 1999, Mr. Radek also was criticized before the Senate Judiciary Committee by FBI Agents Ivian C. Smith, Daniel Wehr, Roberta Parker and Kevin Sheridan, who said that Mr. Radek blocked a search warrant aimed at stopping the destruction of evidence by Democratic fund-raiser Charles Yah Lin Trie.

The agents said they were barred from executing the warrant at Trie's Arkansas office even after learning that records were being destroyed. Trie later pleaded guilty to election-law violations.

Mr. Smith, former agent in charge of the FBI's Little Rock, Ark., field office, testified he was so angry over the search warrant he 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."

Mr. Radek has denied ever saying the pressure he faced concerning the task force probe related to whether Miss Reno would remain as attorney general, although two key FBI officials former Deputy Director William J. Espositio and Assistant Director Neil J. Gallagher said they heard Mr. Radek make the comment.

Despite contrary views by Mr. Freeh and Charles G. LaBella, the campaign finance task force chief, Mr. Radek recommended on three occasions that no independent counsel investigation of Mr. Gore was warranted.

It was Mr. LaBella who told Miss Reno in 1998 that President Clinton and Mr. Gore were key players in a fund-raising scheme designed to "raise money by whatever means and from whomever would give it, without meaningful attention to the lawlessness of the contributions." Mr. LaBella recommended an independent counsel be sought to probe their fund-raising activities a recommendation Miss Reno rejected.

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