Reno Won't Give Out Info on Gore
Friday, June 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
WASHINGTON (AP) â€” Attorney General Janet Reno said Friday she would not dribble out ``piece by piece'' information about whether a special counsel should investigate whether Vice President Al Gore told the truth about his role in 1996 Democratic fund-raising.
``The worst thing you can do in an investigation is dribble it out piece by piece...,'' Reno told reporters at her weekly news conference. ``That's what I am determined to do. I don't want to present half facts. I don't want to present a piece here and a piece there that may not be corroborated. I want to do it the right way.''
The recommendation from Robert Conrad, supervising attorney for the Justice Department's campaign finance task force, was made weeks ago after he questioned Gore about a Buddhist temple fund-raising event Gore attended and other topics.
Reno was asked about the timing of the recommendation for a special prosecutor and whether it would affect the presidential race between Gore and Republican candidate George W. Bush.
``I want to make sure the investigation is done the right way, that it is done to seek justice ... so it is done fairly so it does not interfere with the democratic process,'' the attorney general said.
``I am going to do everything in my power to see that any decision that I make is made without political influence from anyone.''
Word of Conrad's recommendation leaked out Thursday, and an angry Reno launched an internal investigation into how that happened, according to a Democratic senator familiar with the work of the task force.
Reno would not comment about any leak investigation, but she warned that she would not bow to public or media pressure in the case.
``If we let some in the media push in appropriately without knowing the facts, if we let people think that because they leak something they can pressure us into decisions, that just won't work. We've got to do this as objectively and carefully as possible,'' Reno said.
Two government officials said a central issue for the task force is whether Gore gave accurate answers about his fund-raising activities.
Gore, in the middle of a ``prosperity tour'' already dogged by distractions, was wrapping up an otherwise picture-perfect day of campaigning with Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura when the news broke.
``You're privy to news I don't have,'' Gore told reporters.
A senior Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said ``it's a preliminary recommendation'' that Conrad and other officials are reviewing before a final decision by Reno.
The Democratic senator familiar with the task force said it unanimously rejected an oral recommendation by Conrad weeks ago. Conrad resubmitted a written recommendation this week, the senator said on condition of anonymity.
Bush has tried to make Gore's veracity a campaign issue.
At Gore's Nashville, Tenn., campaign headquarters, advisers eager to focus Gore's message on economic good times took a wait-and-see approach and referred press calls to the White House.
There, spokesman James E. Kennedy emphasized Gore's cooperation with the investigation and suggested Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, was trying to stir trouble.
``What we have heard is a Republican senator making his own announcement about the investigation,'' Kennedy said.
Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., who sits on the Judiciary Committee with Specter, said there is no evidence Gore committed any wrongdoing.
``The untimely release of this information to a partisan opponent of the vice president is likely to make it very suspect in the minds of the American people,'' Torricelli said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Specter told the AP: ``I have reason to believe that Mr. Conrad has made a recommendation that an independent counsel be appointed as to matters related to Vice President Gore.''
On CNN, Specter said he would call Reno to testify Tuesday before his Judiciary subcommittee on administrative oversight.
Conrad interviewed Gore and President Clinton in April. Testifying Wednesday before Specter's subcommittee, Conrad signaled activity in the investigation when he said he didn't ``feel comfortable discussing'' any recommendation.
On April 21, three days after Gore was questioned for four hours at the vice presidential residence, he held what was, at that time, a rare press conference aboard Air Force Two. He said he answered Conrad's every question but declined to comment on topics.
Aides hastened to add that Justice officials assured Gore's attorneys he was not a target of the investigation.
Sources familiar with that session say Conrad did delve into Gore's visit to a campaign event at a Buddhist temple in California. The vice president has denied that he knew it was a fund-raiser.
Justice Department spokesman Myron Marlin refused comment on the substance of the report. ``It is inappropriate to comment on ongoing matters or internal deliberations.''
Specter told AP that Reno ``has done a great disservice to Vice President Gore because these matters should have been investigated a long time ago.''
Reno twice rejected an independent counsel to investigate Gore â€” once for fund-raising phone calls from his White House office, the second time for possible false statements about those calls.
Recommendations from Conrad and others go to Reno, who alone decides to appoint a special counsel.
The special counsel process was set up inside the Justice Department after the independent counsel law expired in June 1999. Under that law, a panel of federal appeals judges appointed independent counsels to investigate matters that would be a conflict of interest for the attorney general to pursue. The attorney general is an appointee of the president.