- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2000

A second FBI executive can confirm that a top Justice Department official said he was "under a lot of pressure not to go forward" with an investigation into 1996 campaign finance abuses, and that Attorney General Janet Reno's job "might hang in the balance."

FBI general counsel Larry Parkinson told the House Judiciary Committee yesterday that Neil J. Gallagher, the bureau's assistant director for national security, was present at the meeting during which Lee Radek, head of the Justice Department's office of public integrity, made the comments.

The testimony from Mr. Parkinson came during an unrelated oversight hearing about pending immigration matters after questions by Rep. James E. Rogan, California Republican.

Mr. Rogan asked, over the vigorous objection of Democrats, whether an FBI inquiry had discovered that others were at the 1996 meeting, recounted by FBI Director Louis J. Freeh in a Dec. 9, 1996, memo to Deputy FBI Director William J. Esposito, who also was present at the meeting.

Mr. Parkinson, in response, said Mr. Gallagher also had attended the session and could confirm the conversation.

"He essentially corroborates the account that is described in the director's memo to Mr. Esposito," Mr. Parkinson said.

"Clearly, the testimony represents a major dispute in the story that has been told by the Justice Department and raises the potential for a conflict of interest," Mr. Rogan said.

Mr. Radek said in a written statement he had "no recollection of ever saying I was under pressure because the attorney general's job hung in the balance."

He added, "Nor is it something I would have said because it has no basis in fact."

Miss Reno said she did not remember being told by Mr. Freeh that she and Mr. Radek should recuse themselves after he complained of pressure to scuttle the probe.

She said she talked with Mr. Freeh "about public integrity on a continuing basis" but did not remember comments concerning pressure on her or the department.

The Freeh memo recounts how Mr. Radek believed he was under pressure regarding the probe and how it could impact on whether Miss Reno would be retained as attorney general.

Mr. Freeh told Mr. Esposito that he met with Miss Reno, told her about Mr. Radek's comments and suggested "on that basis" that she and Mr. Radek step aside from the investigation.

The memo said that the public integrity section could not conduct a thorough investigation, and that the department should name aggressive outside investigators whom he referred to as "junkyard dogs."

In a separate memo, Mr. Freeh said Justice sought to sidestep the use of FBI agents for the campaign finance probe.

The memo said the department wanted to use investigators from the inspector general's office at the Commerce Department instead.

The memos were turned over under subpoena to Senate and House committees investigating campaign finance abuses during the 1996 presidential election.

Mr. Radek, Mr. Esposito and Mr. Gallagher are scheduled to testify today before the Senate Judiciary administrative oversight and courts subcommittee, which is investigating the Justice Department's handling of the campaign finance probe.

After the 1996 election, White House aides sought to dump Miss Reno because of her willingness to probe administration officials and her efforts to seek independent counsels in several scandals. During her second term, she has refused outside probes of the fund-raising scandal.

In 1997 and 1998, Mr. Freeh recommended in separate memos that an outside counsel be sought to probe campaign abuses. In 1998, Charles G. LaBella, campaign-finance task force chief, also urged Miss Reno to seek outside counsel in the probe.

Last year, four FBI agents told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Mr. Radek blocked a search warrant in the destruction of evidence by Charles Yah Lin Trie, a top Democratic fund-raiser, even after they discovered that financial, business and travel records were being destroyed.

Agent Ivian C. Smith, head of the FBI's Little Rock field office, said he was so concerned about the probe that 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."

Last month, Senate investigators questioned Mr. Radek's order to stop a probe just before the 1996 election into fund raising by Vice President Al Gore at a Buddhist temple.

In a Nov. 1, 1996, order, he said prosecutors "should take no steps to investigate these matters at this time."

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