- The two top prosecutors in the Justice Department investigation
of Democratic campaign financing split over whether the allegations
merit a special prosecutor, a Republican critic said Tuesday.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah,
said the senior deputies to Attorney General Janet Reno reached
opposite conclusions and prepared competing memorandums.
Hatch, who has repeatedly accused Reno of
foot-dragging on the politically sensitive topic of possible White
House campaign abuses during the 1996 election, also said Reno
is edging closer to his belief that an independent counsel is
warranted. "She's getting there in her own way,"
Hatch said one day before a scheduled meeting with Reno.
Reno last week approved a second 90-day investigation
related to Vice President Al Gore's White House fund-raising activities
that could lead to an independent counsel. A separate, informal
investigation of former White House deputy chief of staff Harold
Ickes could also wind up before an independent counsel.
Hatch invited Reno and the former chief of
her campaign finance task force, Charles LaBella, to a private
meeting Wednesday in Hatch's office. Several other legislators
and LaBella's deputy, Lee Radek, are also scheduled to attend.
"We expect to learn a lot," Hatch
LaBella gave Reno a detailed argument for
appointing an independent counsel before he left the job in July.
The LaBella memo followed a similar recommendation months earlier
from FBI Director Louis Freeh.
"Radek reviewed the (LaBella) memorandum
and wrote a counter memorandum," which was followed by yet
another memo from LaBella recommending an independent counsel,
Justice Department spokesman Bert Brandenburg
would not confirm Hatch's account.
Reno and Justice Department officials have
acknowledged that opinions differ about the independent counsel
question, and Reno has said she is weighing all advice carefully.
"She looks for and expects differences of opinion, and seeks
them out in order to help her make the best decision," Brandenburg
Hatch drew the line more sharply. LaBella,
Freeh and the senior FBI agent on the task force, James V. DeSarno
Jr., recommended an independent counsel while Radek, senior Reno
aide Robert Litt and another lawyer on the task force, Jo Ann
Farrington, opposed doing so, Hatch said.
Several of those Hatch named declined to
comment or did not return telephone calls requesting comment.
A Justice Department official close to the
investigation confirmed the split in general terms and acknowledged
the competing memos.
"There's been a lot of paper prepared
in this investigation," said the official, who spoke on condition
of anonymity. "I don't think it's our intention to turn over
all of it" to legislators.
Last month, the House Government Reform and
Oversight Committee voted to cite Reno for contempt of Congress
for refusing to turn over the Freeh and LaBella memos.
The whole House, which would have to act
before Reno could be cited for contempt, has not yet addressed
By The Associated Press