Specter Warns Reno, Freeh on Memo

Friday, May 19th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Frustrated by the belated disclosure of key memos in the fund-raising scandal, a key senator warned Friday he may seek sanctions against Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh if more surprises surface.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., reacted angrily to the FBI's belated disclosure this week that Freeh penned a memo in late 1996 suggesting a prosecutor was under pressure to drop the fund-raising case to save Reno's job.

Specter, often an ally of Freeh, said the director and Reno should have disclosed the memo long ago but produced it only after being formally subpoenaed by a Senate subcommittee.

``He didn't produce it until he got a subpoena ... I think they're afraid that if they don't come across with the documents, they may be liable for obstruction of justice,'' Specter said.

``I'm very dissatisfied with the attorney general's performance and said so many times, and the I think the director has an explanation to make as to why he did not inform the public of the contents of his memo,'' Specter added.

Specter's Senate subcommittee is investigating the Justice Department's handling of several sensitive cases, including fund-raising and China espionage.

Even before the Freeh memo suddenly appeared Wednesday night, Specter said he was already considering asking his colleagues to find the Justice Department in contempt of Congress for slow and incomplete production of documents in the fund-raising case.

He said he may still proceed with the sanctions. ``If we find that there are documents which they have not produced, we will push for sanctions. In the face of their late production, we just might consider sanctions anyhow,'' he said.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that Freeh wrote a memo on Dec. 9, 1996, disclosing that he asked Reno and Justice Department public integrity section (PIS) chief Lee Radek to step aside from the fund-raising probe because of purported comments made by Radek.

Freeh quoted Radek third-hand as saying there was ``a lot of 'pressure' on him and PIS regarding this case because the attorney general's job might hang in the balance.'' He also urged in the memo that a ``junkyard dog'' — his term for an aggressive prosecutor — be named to take over the case.

Reno said Friday she never bowed to political pressure. ``I call it like I see it, regardless of the consequences. I've got a month-to-month lease on my apartment, and I've been prepared to go home from the beginning,'' she said.

Reno added she did not recall Freeh briefing her on Radek's purported remarks or ``talking about pressure because of the job. I do have a recollection of him (Freeh) saying that we should get a junkyard dog to prosecute the case, but I think that was said on several occasions.

Radek, likewise, said he doesn't recall making such comments and wouldn't have because there was ``no basis in fact.''

Radek, former FBI Deputy Director Bill Esposito and FBI General Counsel Larry Parkinson have been asked to appear at a hearing next week before Specter's subcommittee, the senator said.

Esposito was the recipient of the Freeh memo and was identified by Freeh as the agent to whom Radek made the purported comment.