By DAVID S. Cloud
Staff Reporter of The Wall STREET Journal
General Janet Reno, amid signs she is softening her stand against
a broad outside investigation of 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign fund
raising, moved toward appointing an independent counsel to investigate
the campaign's architect, Harold Ickes.
Ms. Reno said she will conduct a 90-day preliminary
investigation after she concluded that Mr. Ickes. former White
House deputy chief of staff, may have committed perjury in a 1997
deposition given to a Senate committee investigating campaign-finance
irregularities. Last week. Ms. Reno launched a similar inquiry
into whether Vice President Al Gore misled federal investigators
examining fund-raising telephone calls he made from the White
The move comes a day before Ms. Reno is to
meet with leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary committees
whose Republican chairmen have been pushing for an independent
counsel to examine a wide array of allegations surrounding the
Clinton campaign's fund-raising efforts.
Though the Ickes investigation is focused
on a very narrow issue, senior Justice Department officials are
conducting a 30-day review of whether to open another formal 90-day
investigation into whether a broader-based independent counsel
investigation should be launched. The exact scope of that probe
is unclear, but senior Justice Department officials said Ms. Reno
is more open to the idea than ever before. She has resisted calls
for a broad-based independent counsel since fund-raising irregularities
first came to light in late 1996..
"There's a whole bunch of things on
her plate and there are other matters still to be decided,"
some of which could lead to additional 90-day preliminary investigations.
said a senior department official. Another official familiar with
the inquiry cautioned that it continues to appear unlikely that
any top Clinton campaign or White House official will be charged
unless they are found to have lied to investigators.
Senior Justice Department aides said Ms.
Reno decided to begin the preliminary review because of what one
called the "specific and credible" information about
possible perjury by Mr. Ickes. Another factor. officials said,
was the central role he played in the White House fund-raising
effort as a close confidante of President Clinton. Since his position
is not explicitly covered by the independent counsel statute,
Ms. Reno invoked discretionary provisions of the act, which allow
her to consider an outside investigation if she thinks the Justice
Department may have a conflict.
Ms. Reno may still decide not to seek court
appointment of an independent counsel in the matter. The perjury
allegations hinge on Mr. Ickes's response to a question about
whether the administration did favors for the Teamsters union
in return for campaign contributions when it urged a settlement
of a strike at Diamond Walnut Growers in California.
When asked by congressional investigators
what the administration did to settle the Diamond Walnut strike,
Mr. Ickes answered: "Nothing that I know of." But congressional
investigators found that Mr. Ickes urged former U.S. Trade Representative
Mickey Kantor to intervene with company officials to urge them
to end the strike. An aide to Mr. Ickes later called to check
whether Mr. Kantor had followed through.
Lawyers for the Justice Department's Public
Integrity section will examine not only the perjury allegations,
but also the underlying question of whether Mr. Ickes was seeking
to curry favor with the Teamsters in exchange for campaign contributions,
a senior department official said.
In a statement, Mr. Ickes's lawyers said that, during the 20 occasions he had testified on matters arising from his three years in the White House, Mr. Ickes had "testified truthfully on all occasions. Therefore we think such a review and ultimately, the appointment of an independent counsel in this case is unwarranted."