RENO STANDS FIRM
APRIL 30, 1997
The Attorney General, testifying before Congress, has vowed to resist pressure to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate alleged Democratic campaign finance abuses. The NewsHour's regional commentators weigh in on Reno's performance, after this background report.
JIM LEHRER: Attorney General Reno would not budget today in her position on appointing an independent counsel. It is our lead story tonight. Our coverage begins with a Kwame Holman report on Reno's appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
A RealAudio version of The NewsHour's regional commenators' discussion is available.
April 24, 1997:
Part One of Democratic Chair Governor Roy Romer and GOP Chair Jim Nicholson debate.
March 24, 1997:
Part One of Hedrick Smith's series on campaign financing.
March 25, 1997:
Part Two of Hedrick Smith's series on campaign financing.
March 26, 1997:
Part Three of Hedrick Smith's series on campaign financing.
March 11, 1997:
Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) discuss the Senate fund-raising investigation.
March 6, 1997:
Two former White House lawyers discuss the legality of Vice President's fund-raising.
March 4, 1997:
Presidential historians, journalist/author Haynes Johnson and William Kristol, editor and publisher of The Weekly Standard discuss money and politics.
March 3, 1997:
Vice President Gore said he did nothing illegal or wrong when he solicited funds for the 1996 presidential campaigns.
February 27, 1997:
Jim Lehrer leads a discussion on the accusations against the White House campaign financing team .
February 25, 1997:
Elizabeth Farnsworth discusses the growing DNC fund raising scandal with White House Special Counsel Lanny Davis.
November 28, 1996:
Margaret Warner discusses campaign finance reform with three members of Congress.
November 28, 1996:
The NewsHour's Kwame Holman reports on this year's efforts to reform campaign financing and how "soft money" may have been the biggest story of this election.
November 18, 1996:
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) discusses campaign finance reform and his party's role in the 105th Congress.
October 25, 1996:
Mark Shields and Paul Gigot discuss the role of money in this election year.
October 24, 1996:
Ross Perot blasts what he sees as President Clinton's corruption.
October 21, 1996:
Margaret Warner examines campaign money and its sources.
October 21, 1996:
A panel debates campaign finance reform and allegations of illegal foreign contributions and egregious misuse of lots of "soft money."
Browse the Online NewsHour's Congressional coverage.
KWAME HOLMAN: For months now and under great pressure to do otherwise Attorney General Janet Reno has refused steadfastly to ask for an independent counsel to investigation White House involvement in questionable campaign fund-raising practices. Senate Republicans couldn't disagree more. And even though they received a detailed letter from Reno two weeks ago in which she explained her decision, the Senators asked that she come to Capitol Hill and explain it in person. So this morning when members of the Senate Judiciary Committee arrived to question Janet Reno, she was sitting there, waiting for them.
JANET RENO, Attorney General: More than four years ago I took an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States. That is what I was sworn to do, and that's what I'm doing in this manner. At any time I find that the requirements for the Independent Counsel Act have been met I will not hesitate to invoke it, as I have in the past. But I want to be clear about something: I'm not going to violate any oath in this matter because of any pressure from any quarter, not from the media, not from Congress, not from anywhere else. And I'm not going to do things based on polls. I'm going to do things based on the evidence and the law.
KWAME HOLMAN: As chairman of the Judiciary Committee Utah Senator Orrin Hatch took the lead among Republicans in criticizing the attorney general's decision but did so respectfully.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH, Chairman, Judiciary Committee: The purpose of this hearing is not to pressure the attorney general. I share her disdain for political pressure directed to influence law enforcement decisions. I recognize that she is in a difficult, unenviable position. In candor, I also have some reservations about various aspects of the independent counsel statute. But if ever there was a case where public confidence in the integrity of an investigation and in the Justice Department, itself, required a prosecutor who does not have--who is not a political appointee of the President it is here.
KWAME HOLMAN: Hatch came equipped with charts he says show how the current Justice Department investigation of fund-raising activities already is linked to White House officials covered by the independent counsel statute.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: All will inevitably lead to investigations of the extent to which covered individuals or others in the White House inner circle may have been aware of violations of law, of any violations of the law. If this does not present the attorney general with a conflict of interest, I would like to know what does.
KWAME HOLMAN: For much of the morning Hatch and Reno went back and forth, disagreeing on just what the independent counsel statute has passed by Congress instructs the attorney general to do.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Now, General Reno, you certainly must agree with me that even if there is not an actual conflict of interest, at the very least, all of this presents at least an appearance of conflict of interest. Do you agree or disagree with that statement?
JANET RENO: That's one of the issues, as you will note, that I raised in my letter to you, Mr. Chairman, because under the act I must conclude that there is a potential for an actual conflict of interest, rather than merely an appearance of a conflict of interest. And the Congress expressly adopted this higher standard to ensure, I think, that the provisions of the act would not be invoked unnecessarily.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: General Reno, is it your testimony that if the public believes you have a conflict of interest and even if the President asks you to request an independent counsel--or say that he does--but you do not personally believe you have a conflict, you are legally authorized to request the appointment--you are not legally authorized to request the appointment of an independent counsel?
JANET RENO: Mr. Chairman, you just said something that is of real concern to me.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Right.
JANET RENO: If I'm going to let the Department of Justice decisions be made on the basis of polls and if that's what the law requires, then I don't want any part of it. That's not the structure of law. That's not the rule of law--
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: That's not what I'm saying. Nobody expects you to do that. I cite the poll because people are concerned. That's the only reason for citing the polls. What we are citing here are the statutes that seem to say that when you have even an appearance of a conflict of interest--which certainly appears to be the case here--you have an obligation to move ahead when there may have been--not was or did--but may have been impropriety here.
JANET RENO: As we have indicated in the letter that we wrote, we carefully reviewed it, and I'll go back and review everything again and make sure that I have all your thoughts in line and go down one by one and review them.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: My time is up. We'll turn to our ranking member, Sen. Leahy.
KWAME HOLMAN: Most Democrats say the Republicans' insistence on the appointment of an independent counsel is motivated by politics. Vermont's Patrick Leahy subscribes to that theory.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) Vermont: Career Justice Department prosecutors from the public integrity section of the criminal division, with the help of at least 30 FBI agents, have been hard at work for the past six months investigating any fund-raising irregularities in the 1996 federal election campaigns. Maybe--maybe some don't like that investigation because it does not appear to be limited to the last presidential campaign of Bill Clinton as the Republicans have requested. Instead, the ongoing Justice Department investigation appears to be far broader. It might even be looking at Republicans, as well as Democrats. If instead of being an optimistic person from a rural state I was a cynical Senator, I would almost think that there are some who would like to have her stop her investigation and turn it over to investigation solely of a--solely of Democrats, so that there wouldn't be any Republicans looked at at all.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, Republicans continued their questioning of Reno. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania insisted there was specific evidence the Clinton campaign violated federal election laws by illegally spending so-called soft money raised by the Democratic Party but used for television ads promoting the President's reelection. But, again, Reno disagreed.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R) Pennsylvania: This is the TV commercial: "Head Start, student loans, toxic clean-up, extra police, anti-drug programs, Dole-Gingrich wanted them cut. Now they're safe, protected in the 1996 budget because the President stood firm." Can that possibly be language taken as a whole which says anything that urge the election expressly of President Clinton?
JANET RENO: I think it is important, again, to consider the whole framework by which we have to judge that, and the fact that the Elections Commission is in place to look at these decisions, to look at the message, to render advice and opinions, at this point the whole area is so murky we cannot find clear and specific and creditable evidence that the law has been violated.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Well, Attorney General Reno, if that is express advocacy, the law has been violated. So the question is: Can you say to us that it is your legal judgment that that is not express advocacy?
JANET RENO: Based on the processes that have been established by the Department of Justice this is a situation in which we would not find specific and creditable evidence that a crime had been committed that would justify killing the statute.
KWAME HOLMAN: Reno clearly frustrated Republicans with some of her answers today. And when the hearing ended shortly after 5 this evening, they seemed relieved.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: This has been an ordeal for you, but--
JANET RENO: It's not even been an ordeal.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Well, it has for us. (laughing)