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Jewish World Review / August 6, 1998 / 14 Menachem-Av, 5758

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg No surprises dept. -- promotion denied

Let's tune in now to the further adventures of Stonewall Reno, who continues to hold the fort, despite the onslaughts of reason and justice.

Remember Charles La Bella, the latest expert to conclude that an independent counsel was needed to investigate the campaign finance scandal? Well, this administration has just forgotten him.

Called in to advise Janet Reno on her duty as attorney general, Mr. La Bella suggested she do it. His recommendation seems to have had no effect on Ms. Reno but may have had considerable on his own career.

Before he was called to Washington, Mr. La Bella had been serving as interim U.S. attorney for San Diego. He was under consideration for permanent appointment to that post, a job he clearly coveted. But word got out this week that he won't be appointed after all. Is anybody surprised?

Before he gave Ms. Reno some advice she clearly did not want to hear, the attorney general seems to have had only the highest regard for Mr. La Bella and the work he was doing. He had done such a bang-up job investigating the campaign-finance scandal that he was getting an interim appointment in San Diego. But now somebody else has been found for that U.S. attorney's job.

Charles La Bella isn't the only one to see the clear and present need for an independent investigation of this far-reaching scandal. It's been more than a year -- more than a year -- since Louis Freeh, the director of he FBI, advised Janet Reno that somebody besides Janet Reno should be investigating the president, to whom she owes her job.

And it now has been more than six months since Charles La Bella, brought in to provide a second opinion, told the attorney general, the same thing -- job in San Diego or no job in San Diego. He included his recommendation in the formal report he made to the attorney general last month.

One wonders if General Reno would even have asked for this second opinion if the first had been more to her liking. But still she dawdles. Will she now ask for a third, or a fourth, till she gets an opinion that will allow her to spare the president and vice president an independent investigation, rather than one by their own, always understanding Justice Department?

The attorney general claims to have an "open mind" about whether to heed the advice of these two honest men. One would never know it by the molasses-like pace at which she and her minions have investigated this scandal. She's dug in her heels, dragged her feet and thrown out anchors in all directions.

If only Richard Nixon had been able to put his attorney general, Richard Kleindienst, in complete charge of Watergate, this is the kind of job he might have turned in: a long, extensive hunt for only small fry.

Look at how long it took this Justice Department to track down, interrogate and indict Charlie Trie after his connection with illegal campaign contributions from abroad had been detailed in newspaper stories and television specials. More than a year after some television network interviewed him in China, the Justice Department finally stumbled across Charlie Trie, like a blind hog finding an acorn. Is this the work of an open mind, too, or just a vacant one?

Dan Burton's committee in the House now has released the clearest evidence to date of how foreign contributions flowed into Democratic coffers during the last presidential campaign. Some $50,000 in Indonesian travelers' checks, for example, were issued to Mr. Trie and various associates, preparatory to the money's winding up at the Democratic National Committee.

Little by little, it becomes clearer why that mysterious Indonesian gardener who showed up to shake the president's hand at a reception could say -- on the videotape -- "James Riady sent me." Gardening must be a highly lucrative profession in Indonesia; this one donated $450,000 to the Democratic Party.

Now this congressional committee would like to look at the memos that the FBI's director and her own hand-picked expert, Mr. La Bella, wrote the attorney general. Both agreed that she should step aside in favor of an independent counsel. But she's still stonewalling. To turn over these memos, she argues, would tip off suspects, complicate the case she's building and generally lead to the fall of Western civilization.

In that case, she could offer the committee an excised version of the memos -- one that focuses on the legal arguments for an independent counsel without revealing any evidence she wants kept confidential. Instead, she had to be pressed even to acknowledge the possibility of an "accommodation." No wonder the committee is running out of patience with her delaying tactics.

Enough. The trail is already cold, and there are no signs that this Justice Department has been seriously interested in pursuing it. It's time, long past time, to turn this duty over to someone who will do it without having so obvious a conflict of interest -- a conflict now formally recognized in both those memos she won't release.

Many of us have doubts about the number of independent counsels roaming the country with far-reaching powers, but Janet Reno's farce of an "investigation" into this undeniable scandal demonstrates the need for still another. She's never been all that interested in pursuing the evidence that was splashed all over the front pages years ago, and now she seems even less interested in having somebody competent pursue it. When the vice president explained that there was "no controlling legal authority" over the kind of boiler-room calls he and the president made from the White House, he could have been talking about this attorney general.


8/03/98: Quotes of and for the week: take your pick
7/29/98: A subpoena for the president:
so what else is new?
7/27/98: Forget about Bubba, it's time to investigate Reno
7/23/98: Ghosts on the roof, 1998
7/21/98: The new elegance
7/16/98: In defense of manners
7/13/98: Another day, another delay: what's missing from the scandal news
7/9/98:The language-wars continue
7/7/98:The new Detente
7/2/98: Bubba in Beijing: history does occur twice
6/30/98: Hurry back, Mr. President -- to freedom
6/24/98: When Clinton follows Quayle's lead
6/22/98: Independence Day, 2002
6/18/98: Adventures in poli-speke

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate