As attorney general in one of the most scandal-plagued
administrations in recent history, Janet Reno has remained an
outsider, somewhat aloof from the White House.
She's routinely described as fair, nonpolitical, and
independent. Indeed, she's one of the few attorneys general since
the late 1800s who has not been a personal friend of the president.
But in refusing - for the fourth time - to recommend appointment
of a special counsel to investigate alleged campaign fund-raising
abuses by Democrats, Ms. Reno is putting her reputation on the line.
Some congressional Republicans are now questioning whether Reno
might have soft pedaled the fund-raising case as payback for being
reappointed attorney general by President Clinton earlier this year.
If that is the case, then investigators working for two
congressional committees now probing the Democratic fund-raising
scandal should be in a good position in several months to determine
whether Reno is engaging in a form of obstruction of justice.
The attorney general will have an opportunity April 16 to
personally explain to Senate critics her refusal this week to
recommend appointment of a special counsel to investigate alleged
Democratic fund-raising abuses.
The potential conflicts inherent in her decision are immediately
"There is a clear conflict of interest when the attorney general
appointed by the president is called upon to investigate possible
illegal acts by the vice president and other high-ranking
administration officials," says Senate majority leader Trent Lott
A squeaky-clean career
Analysts say there's nothing in Reno's past to suggest she would
risk breaking federal laws to help the president, vice president,
or Democratic Party. Her aloofness from the White House is
illustrated by a recent disclosure about how the Justice Department
handled sensitive intelligence regarding possible efforts by China
to influence US elections via illegal campaign contributions.
The Justice Department's FBI briefed two National Security
Council staff members on the matter, but the information evidently
never reached Mr. Clinton. Reno has said that she tried to
telephone national security adviser Anthony Lake with the
information, but that she was unable to reach him and didn't follow
Reno's independent position in the Clinton Cabinet is unusual,
particularly in an administration beset by legal and ethical
scandals. She had no prior history with Clinton before joining the
administration in 1993 as his third choice for attorney general.
And she is not considered a confidante of the president or first
lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The Arkansas insider who filled that role at the Justice
Department was Webster Hubbell. Mr. Hubbell served as Reno's deputy
until he was forced from office in April 1994 amid allegations that
he defrauded his former law partners in Arkansas of nearly $500,000.
More recently, Hubbell has been in the news following press
reports that wealthy political supporters of Clinton paid Hubbell
more than $400,000 at a time when he was under investigation by the
Whitewater special counsel. …