Reno to Open Probe of Ickes In Fund Raising

Clinton's Campaign Chief Is Suspected of Perjury In Deposition to Senate

By DAVID S. Cloud

Staff Reporter of The Wall STREET Journal

WASHINGTON-Attorney 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 House.

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."

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