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Jewish World Review August 25, 2000 / 24 Menachem-Av, 5760

Cal Thomas

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The Injustice Department --
BY REFUSING for the third straight time to name an independent counsel to investigate alleged wrongdoing in the Clinton-Gore administration -- this time to investigate Vice President Al Gore's fund-raising role in the 1996 campaign -- Attorney General Janet Reno has established herself as an even greater stonewaller than Richard Nixon and his Justice Department, headed by John Mitchell.

Reno again ignored the conclusions and recommendation of the person assigned to investigate Gore's fund-raising activities. After interviewing Gore in April, Robert J. Conrad Jr. urged her to name an outside counsel to explore whether the vice president lied about what he knew and when he knew it, concerning the infamous Buddhist temple "community outreach'' event and those numerous White House coffees. Gore repeatedly denied under oath that they were fund-raisers, though everyone who attended expected to, or was later asked to, donate to the reelection campaign.

At a news conference Wednesday (Aug. 23), Reno said reports that Conrad was the only one within Justice to recommend appointment of a special counsel are "not correct.''

The history of this inquiry provides enough evidence of possible violations of the law that only a special counsel could credibly sort it out. But, clearly, political considerations have come before the law in this case, and in the others, that got too close to the White House.

In a June 23 story, the New York Times quoted Justice Department officials as saying, "Mr. Conrad has been told to avoid putting his views in writing and at times felt stymied in his efforts to communicate directly with top officials.''

It was former White House chief of staff Harold Ickes who rejected Gore's "iced-tea defense,'' in which Gore claimed to have been out of the room on bathroom breaks during a 1995 White House meeting. That's when possibly illegal plans were hatched to raise money for the 1996 campaign. In a 1998 interview with the FBI, Ickes testified that he had no recollection of Gore leaving the room at any point and that "if there were any interruption involving the president or vice president, the meeting would have been suspended until they returned.''

Newsweek reported in June a memo from Justice Department lawyer Judy Feigin to Assistant Attorney General James K. Robinson regarding the "Independent Counsel Matter: Al Gore Jr.'' In her memo, Feigin observed that, when asked, some witnesses recalled a discussion about there being a hard-money component in the context of the media fund during a fund-raising meeting with Gore on Nov. 21, 1995. Feigin wrote: "On the other side is a group of people who basically `don't recall.' This is a classic white collar (crime) scenario.''

FBI Director Louis Freeh wrote in a Nov. 24, 1998, letter to the attorney general: "Today, I am convinced, now more than ever, that this entire matter should be referred to an Independent Counsel.'' In a subsequent memo to FBI General Counsel Larry Parkinson on Dec. 8, Freeh added: "I cannot imagine a more compelling matter for the appointment of an Independent Counsel.''

Charles LaBella, who supervised the Campaign Finance Task Force within the Justice Department, had earlier written to the attorney general: "If these allegations involved anyone other than the president, vice president, senior White House, or DNC (Democratic National Committee) and Clinton/Gore '96 officials, an appropriate investigation would have commenced months ago without hesitation.'' He advised the attorney general that "the wise course is ... to seek the appointment of an Independent Counsel.''

On Aug. 4, 1998, before the House Government Reform Committee, there was this exchange between Chairman Dan Burton and James DeSarno, former chief investigator for the Campaign Finance Task Force. Burton asked, "Do you concur with the recommendations of Director Freeh and Mr. LaBella (to appoint an Independent Counsel)?'' Replied DeSarno, "I do, yes, sir.''

The purpose of an independent counsel is to credibly examine evidence that these other career people believe may indicate wrongdoing. Attorney General Reno has singularly blocked their efforts and continues to mock justice and cause harm to the reputation of her department and the honest, hard-working people who, unlike her, put the law before the preservation of a politician's skin.

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