December 9, 1997
Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh were called before the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee to explain why they came to different conclusions as to whether an independet counsel should be appointed to investigate the President's campaign fund-raising activities. They were also questioned about the leak of a confidential memo Director Freeh sent to Attorney General Reno asking her to appoint an independent counsel. After excerpts from the testimony, Representatives John Shadegg (R-AZ) and Tom Lantos (D-CA) provide their perspectives.
KWAME HOLMAN: Several weeks ago Attorney General Janet Reno told members of Congress she would not close any part of her campaign fund-raising investigation unless FBI Director Louis Freeh agreed. And so when it became known her decision last week not to ask for an independent counsel investigation of the President's and Vice President's fund-raising phone calls was made over Freeh's disagreement, Republicans demanded an explanation. Today both Reno and Freeh appeared before the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, willing to explain their differences of opinion together. But Republican Chairman Dan Burton had other plans.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
December 9, 1997:
Two members of Congress discuss Attorney General Reno's and FBI Director Freeh's testimony before Congress regarding the appointment of an independent counsel.
December 5, 1997:
The NewsHour's political pundits discuss Janet Reno's decision on an independent counsel.
December 3, 1997:
A historical look at the President - Attorney General relationship.
December 2, 1997:
Attorney General Janet Reno does not seek an independent counsel.
October 29, 1997:
An administration lawyer explains why tapes of White House coffee were missed.
October 22, 1997:
The Senate committee investigating campaign finance abuses air tapes of White House coffees.
October 15, 1997:
Attorney General Janet Reno explains to a Senate committee why she extended her review of President Clinton's campaign finance activities.
October 14, 1997:
Attorney General Janet Reno announced that she was extending the investigation into fund-raising calls made by President Clinton.
October 9, 1997:
The House finally began hearing testimony from witnesses looking into the work of DNC donor "Charlie" Yah Lin Trie.
October 7, 1997:
After a contentious beginning, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes began his testimony before the Senate.
September 11, 1997:
The highest ranking Clinton administration official, National Security Advisor Samuel Berger, testifies on White House screening procedures for donors and guests.
September 9, 1997:
Former DNC Chair Don Fowler defends the actions of the Democrats during the last election.
July 24, 1997:
Former RNC Chair Haley Barbour testifies before the committee about the fund-raising done by the GOP in 1996.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the campaign finance investigation.
House Government Reform and Oversight Committee
U.S. Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Republicans force Attorney General Reno and Director Freeh to testify separately.
REP. DAN BURTON: For the information of those in attendance we will have two panels because we have a series of questions for each individual. The first panel will consist of the Attorney General of the United States, Janet Reno. And later on today, when she concludes and leaves, we'll have FBI Director Louis Freeh before the committee as well.
REP. TOM LANTOS: Mr. Chairman, I would like to raise a question. I have been advised by the distinguished director of the FBI in a meeting yesterday that he requested that he appear jointly with our distinguished attorney general. I think this is a reasonable request.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats on the committee forced two votes on the issue but lost both times.
SPOKESMAN: Mr. Chairman, there are 13 ayes and 14 nays.
KWAME HOLMAN: Reno herself couldn't convince the chairman to change his mind.
JANET RENO, Attorney General: What I would say, Mr. Chairman, is to try to get to the truth of it all you should hear from the people involved. We're both here.
Request to release memo denied.
KWAME HOLMAN: The hearing continued. But it was Burton who became frustrated in his attempts to obtain a copy of the memo FBI Director Freeh sent to Reno detailing his opposition to her decision.
REP. DAN BURTON: Despite a subpoena from this committee, we still have not seen this memo. However, the Wall Street Journal reports that Director Freeh's memo lays out the case that the diversion of soft money into hard money by the DNC, and other related campaign finance law violations may have constituted a conspiracy that reaches into the White House. According to the New York Times, Mr. Freeh's memo argues that the conflicts of interest for the Justice Department are so great that the department cannot credibly investigate the campaign finance issue. I must ask: How are members of Congress and the public supposed to react when they pick up the newspaper and this is what they read?
KWAME HOLMAN: Reno said the decision not to release the memo was both her's and Freeh's.
JANET RENO: We're concerned that releasing it would compromise the department's ability to discharge its responsibilities to ensure the fair administration of justice. We feel strongly that, as investigative and prosecutorial decision-makers, we must have the benefit of candid and confidential advice and recommendations from our advisers. We do not want to chill the free exchange of ideas necessary to a solid investigation and legal decision-making.
Attorney General Reno fends off questions about Director Freeh's memo.
KWAME HOLMAN: Unable to get a copy of what Freeh wrote, Burton asked Reno to tell him what Freeh said.
REP. DAN BURTON: Didn't Director Freeh present a case based on the law and facts for an independent counsel?
JANET RENO: Director Freeh, as I have told you, Mr. Chairman, I want the people around me to be able to talk freely, voluntarily, and openly. I don't think that I should say what people who work with me volunteer. When the decision has to be mine, I am responsible for it.
REP. DAN BURTON: Okay. Do you think Director Freeh presented an unconstitutional interpretation of the law that would be struck down if you were to follow his recommendations?
JANET RENO: I would not comment on what Director Freeh said to me.
REP. DAN BURTON: Well, that's not--I mean, I don't understand. How is this going to jeopardize your investigation if you comment on the constitutionality of his position in the letter? That has nothing to do with the investigation.
JANET RENO: Mr. Chairman, if--I have a conference room. And there are so many occasions where I have had lawyers from all parts of the Justice Department around the table in that conference room. I think that they know that they can speak openly, with candor, with good give and take. And sometimes there are eight lawyers there, and there are eight different opinions. I don't want those lawyers to feel that every time they give me their best and most candid advice they are going to be hauled before a congressional committee to discussion an ongoing investigation.
REP. DAN BURTON: That is not my question. Let me read it to you again. Do you think Director Freeh presented an unconstitutional interpretation of the law that would be struck down if you were to follow his recommendation?
JANET RENO: I give you the same answer, sir. I think that I have a responsibility to make the decision and to not comment on the opinions given to me in the deliberation process with respect to ongoing matters.
REP. DAN BURTON: So this committee and the Congress does not have a right to know whether or not you thought that his recommendation was constitutional?
JANET RENO: If you have a right to know about these matters, then you have a right to know everything.
KWAME HOLMAN: Chairman Burton then challenged Reno for the reasoning she used in not asking for the appointment of an independent counsel.
REP. DAN BURTON: And I think on its face the American people would think that there would be a conflict of interest, and for that reason, in order for there to be a fair and impartial investigation of this whole mess, there ought to be a person appointed as an independent counsel who has no ax to grind, who has no ties to Web Hubbell or John Huang or to the President or anybody else, so we can get to the bottom of it. And for you to keep hiding behind this, saying well, you'll consider it, I think is a dereliction of your responsibility.
JANET RENO: I'm not hiding, Mr. Chairman. I am trying to do my duty under the independent counsel statute and under the law to conduct an investigation in a professional way, taking it wherever it leads me. And I will continue to do so.
Freeh refuses to discuss recommendation.
KWAME HOLMAN: Late this afternoon FBI Director Freeh got his turn to testify, but as far as Chairman Burton was concerned, he was no more forthcoming about what was in his memorandum than was Attorney General Janet Reno.
LOUIS FREEH, Director, FBI: Because there has been widespread reporting--and I deplore the leaks of that reporting--with respect to what I recommended and only after discussing this with the Attorney General and many other people, am I willing to disclose what I believe should always be at least in the context of an ongoing criminal investigation a matter of confidence between an investigator and the chief prosecutor, in this case my boss, the Attorney General. I do not believe, however, it is appropriate for me to go beyond what that specific recommendation was. In recommending to the attorney general that an independent counsel be appointed I did not and do not believe that any particular person has committed a crime or is a target of a grand jury, or even has done anything improper. I recommended appointment of an independent counsel to investigate whether crimes may have been committed, but nothing more should be inferred from that recommendation.
KWAME HOLMAN: Burton, however, pressed Freeh to disclose at least what he based his recommendation on.
REP. DAN BURTON: When you made your recommendation to the attorney general, did you take the section of the independent counsel statute, which deals with conflicts, into account Section 592?
LOUIS FREEH: I took that into account, yes, sir.
REP. DAN BURTON: Did you conclude that the attorney general had such a conflict of interest in this case that she could not credibly conduct this investigation?
LOUIS FREEH: Again, I just would respectfully like to report to you certainly the recommendation that I've disclosed but not discussed the bases or the means that go beyond that recommendation, once I do that, I think I start to get into the areas of the facts and not the law--but the facts that I feel constrained not to do.
REP. DAN BURTON: But your determination was based, in part, then on Section 592?
LOUIS FREEH: I made the recommendation on more than one basis.
REP. DAN BURTON: Was that part of it?
LOUIS FREEH: Again, I'd rather not get into the particulars of what part of the statute I made it on or didn't make it on. It's fair to say that I made my recommendation on more than one basis, but I prefer not to go beyond that.
REP. DAN BURTON: The questions I'm asking you, Mr. Freeh, is--is not one that would be in any way construed to impede your investigation, or be causing a problem with grand jury testimony or the secrecy provisions of the grand jury, so I don't understand why you can't answer that question whether or not 592 was a part of your decision.
LOUIS FREEH: Again, with great respect, Mr. Chairman, I'm not so much concerned that an answer to that question would violate any portion of the grand jury evidence in this case. I am very concerned that the answer to that question and a more comprehensive response will start very seriously to impede the relationship that directors have and should have with their Attorney General, both this one and those to come. So I respectfully ask that I not be required to give the specific bases. I think I can report to you that I made the recommendation on more than one bases. I think that's a pretty comprehensive answer.
KWAME HOLMAN: After listening to eight hours of testimony the committee still has questions so FBI Director Freeh will return tomorrow morning.