- The Washington Times - Friday, April 28, 2000

A Senate committee has issued a subpoena for former Justice Department campaign-finance task force chief Charles G. LaBella, ordering him to testify next week on a 1998 memo he wrote recommending an independent counsel investigation of President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, in an 11-7 vote along party lines, set the hearing for Wednesday. Republicans supported the subpoena. Democrats opposed it.

The July 1998 memo, a copy of which was obtained by the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on administrative oversight and the courts, urged Attorney General Janet Reno to seek outside counsel to investigate the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign, including some fund-raising calls Mr. Gore made from the White House.

The memo did not accuse the president, vice president or first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton of any specific crimes, but cited questionable acts and a "pattern of conduct worthy of investigation" by an independent counsel.

It also questioned Mr. Gore's "failure of recollection" and other inconsistencies on his campaign-finance activities and suggested he may have given "false testimony."

Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and subcommittee chairman, said the memo which was "slightly redacted" by the Justice Department was "surprising in the forcefulness" with which the recommendation was made for the appointment of an independent counsel.

Mr. Specter said he believes the document, once made public, will show that the attorney general was "derelict in her duty" when she refused to seek outside counsel to investigate Mr. LaBella's concerns.

"It's stark. I am surprised the attorney general never responded to Mr. LaBella regarding the memo or its recommendations," he said, noting that soon after the document was sent to Miss Reno, Mr. LaBella was "thrown overboard."

"It was just outlandish the way he was treated," he said. "I'm going to demand that we see every document in the LaBella file to see exactly why he was relieved of his duties."

Mr. LaBella was in line to become the next U.S. attorney in San Diego when he was handpicked by Miss Reno to head the task force. He lost the San Diego job after news of the memo became public. His replacement, Gregory Vega, recommended by Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, has yet to win Senate confirmation.

The LaBella memo followed two memos by FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, who also said the attorney general should seek an independent counsel to probe fund-raising activities of the Clinton-Gore Re-election Committee.

Mr. Freeh told Miss Reno in 1997 that the probe had led FBI agents "to the highest levels of the White House" and that she was obligated under the mandatory and discretionary sections of the Independent Counsel Statute to seek an independent prosecutor.

The second Freeh memo also recommended that an outside counsel be sought to probe accusations that Mr. Gore made false statements to FBI agents on his role in fund-raising calls he made from the White House during the 1996 election and on his knowledge of "hard" and "soft" money donations to the Democratic Party.

In a raucous July 1998 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican, told Miss Reno that during a confidential briefing a month earlier, FBI General Counsel Larry Parkinson said the task force investigation had led FBI agents to both the president and the vice president.

Mr. Thompson said Mr. Freeh believed Miss Reno was obligated under the mandatory and discretionary sections of the Independent Counsel Statute to seek outside counsel. He quoted Mr. Freeh as saying, "It is difficult to imagine a more compelling situation for appointing an independent counsel."

Mr. Specter said the LaBella memo was made available by the Justice Department for limited access. He said that besides himself, only Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican; Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the committee's ranking Democrat; and Sen. Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey, the subcommittee's ranking Democrat, had been allowed to see the document.

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