No outside Counsel Likely in Probe of Gore Campaign Calls

Article excerpt

Attorney General Janet Reno is expected today to reject - for a second time - the question of whether to seek the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate possible campaign finance abuses by Vice President Al Gore.

Lawyers in the Justice Department's criminal division have completed a 90-day preliminary inquiry into accusations that Mr. Gore misled government officials when they asked about funds he raised on his White House office telephone during the 1996 presidential campaign.

They made their findings known to the attorney general over the weekend. Department officials said they believe the attorney general will reject accusations that there is specific and credible evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Although the 90-day time period expires today, Miss Reno is expected to wait until "the last minute" to make her decision known to a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which would name an outside prosecutor in the case.

A similar review last year cleared Mr. Gore of any wrongdoing when Miss Reno said there was a lack of credible evidence to show that Mr. Gore had violated the law.

Two other preliminary investigations by the Justice Department are under way, with decisions due by Dec. 7 on whether an outside prosecutor is warranted. They include accusations that President Clinton and his 1996 election campaign illegally evaded federal spending limits through the use of issue-advocacy ads, and whether former senior White House official Harold Ickes lied to a Senate committee probing campaign finance abuses.

In the Gore probe, the vice president has acknowledged making 45 telephone calls from his office during the campaign but denied violating the law. He said last year there was "no controlling legal authority" showing any violation of campaign finance laws "whatsoever in the manner in which I asked people to contribute to our re-election campaign."

But federal law enforcement authorities refocused this year on Mr. …