- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 24, 2000

Attorney General Janet Reno yesterday ignored the advice of at least three of her top advisers and refused to name a special counsel to look into questionable statements made by Vice President Al Gore during an investigation of his 1996 fund-raising activities.
"Because further investigation is not likely to result in a prosecutable case under applicable criminal law and principles of federal prosecution, I have concluded that a special counsel is not warranted," Miss Reno told reporters yesterday, hours after news of her decision was published in the New York Times.
The investigation of Democratic fund raising will not end, but will continue to be handled internally by Justice Department lawyers and investigators.
Robert J. Conrad, head of the Justice Department's task force looking into the fund-raising scandal, had recommended that Miss Reno appoint an outside prosecutor. Miss Reno said at least two others, whom she did not name, concurred with his recommendation.
Mr. Conrad said Mr. Gore may have lied under oath in an April interview with investigators when he said he did not know that a series of coffees he hosted in his offices and a 1996 event at the Hsi Lai Buddhist temple in Los Angeles were in fact fund-raisers.
"I did not know this was a fund-raiser, and I do not to this day know that it was a fund-raiser," Mr. Gore told investigators in April, despite a contemporary e-mail message in which Mr. Gore refers to the Buddhist temple event as a "fund-raiser."
Mr. Gore admitted that the events were part of a fund-raising strategy, but he thought they were merely to develop "relationships" that could lead to future fund-raising efforts. He did not expect money to be collected at the events, he said.
The transcript of that April interview "reflects neither false statements nor perjury, each of which requires proof of a willfully false statement about a material matter," Miss Reno said. "Rather, the transcript reflects disagreements about labels."
This is the third time Miss Reno has publicly resisted calls for an outside prosecutor to investigate Mr. Gore, now the Democratic nominee for president, over the objections of key aides.
She previously rejected internal Justice Department recommendations to name an independent counsel to look into whether Mr. Gore violated the law in making fund-raising phone calls from his official office and whether he lied to investigators when he said he did not know whether the money he raised was for general Democratic Party use or specifically for the Clinton re-election effort. The two categories are covered under dramatically different rules and must be kept separate.
Republicans were quick to say Miss Reno once more was protecting her bosses.
"Janet Reno has steadfastly refused to follow the recommendations of her career law enforcement officers and allow an independent investigation of high-ranking administration officials. There was never any reason to believe she would do any differently in this case," said Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican and head of the Senate panel that first looked into charges that Democrats evaded campaign finance laws during the 1996 election. "This, of course, undermines the rule of law."
"It is particularly problemsome to see the attorney general's protection of Vice President Gore over investigations spanning several years, but that now is a matter for the voters," said Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and head of a subcommittee looking into the fund-raising scandal.
Mr. Specter said his panel will not take immediate action on the scandal, because any investigation would become entangled in presidential politics. He promised continued inquiries after the election.
Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush refused to criticize the decision, but made clear he would remind voters of the administration's repeated brushes with scandal.
"While it's clear that Al Gore engaged in a number of questionable fund-raising activities and gave the FBI statements that continue to raise the issue of his credibility, the American people are sick and tired of all these scandals and investigations," Mr. Bush said in a written statement. "The best way to put all these scandals and investigations behind us is to elect someone new."
The news came as a relief to the Gore campaign, which has been trying to minimize its own scandal problems and distance itself from the various troubles of President Clinton.
"We are pleased with today's Justice Department announcement. But our focus is going to remain where it has always been which is on using our prosperity to help America's families," said Gore spokesman Chris Lehane.
Mr. Clinton, who himself has been implicated in questionable fund-raising activities, refused to comment on the decision.
"I don't know any more about that than you do," he told reporters yesterday. "I learned about it when I picked up the paper this morning."
Miss Reno said she expects to be criticized for the decision, but would not change her mind.
"I don't do things based on politics I realize that politics will be hurled around my head," she said. "I just sit there and duck as it comes, and continue to look at the evidence and the law and make the best judgment I can, after consultation with as many people as possible who have relevant information."
Mr. Conrad's recommendation, made public by Mr. Specter in June, stems from an interview he conducted with Mr. Gore on April 18, an interview Mr. Conrad described at combative. A transcript, later released by Mr. Gore, shows that Mr. Gore denied that the Buddhist temple event was a fund-raiser, yet was unable to explain why he referred to it as a fund-raiser in an e-mail message sent to an aide the same day as the event.
"It appears that, from this e-mail, that she has told me in this e-mail that we've confirmed the fund-raisers for Monday, April 29," Mr. Gore admitted.
He also denied hosting a series of fund-raising coffees for donors. His lawyer later wrote to Mr. Conrad explaining that the vice president thought the question referred to events at the White House, not at the adjacent Old Executive Office Building.
Mr. Gore hosted 21 such coffees at the Old Executive Office Building.
Miss Reno said yesterday she accepts the vice president's explanation of his answers.
"There's no ifs, ands or buts about it," she said. "He describes the role, that it's to build relationships, develop an understanding, answer questions, hear people's ideas and build a relationship so that later, you might go out and ask for a contribution."
"It's the labels where they disagree," she said. "And I reached the conclusion that the vice president had not, based on this record, failed to describe what the role in fund raising was."
Andrew Cain, traveling with Mr. Gore, contributed to this report.

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