10/01/97 - 02:24 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version
WASHINGTON - A Justice Department task force is expected to recommend Attorney General Janet Reno take the next step toward determining whether an independent prosecutor should investigate Vice President Al Gore's fund-raising telephone calls, government officials said Wednesday.
The task force has been conducting a 30-day preliminary review of allegations that Gore violated a law by making fund-raising telephone calls from his office. Reno must decide by Friday whether to launch a second-stage inquiry - a preliminary investigation that can last 90 days and might lead her to request appointment of an independent counsel for a full investigation.
Justice Department spokesman Bert Brandenburg said Wednesday that Reno "has not made any decision yet."
House Speaker Newt Gingrich intensified Republican pressure on Reno to call for an independent counsel. "I think 90 more days of waiting around and doing nothing is wrong," he told reporters at the White House after meeting with Clinton on a separate issue.
"I don't know why she is dragging her feet and every time it takes as much time as possible for her to get around to a decision," Gingrich said. "She has the evidence, she knows what the situation is. She should appoint an independent counsel."
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., criticized the Republicans for trying to pressure Reno. "The political pressure on the attorney general does a disservice to the nation, which is awaiting an objective and fair review," Levin said in a speech prepared for the Senate floor.
"The effort to shoehorn the conduct of the president and vice president into the prohibitions of an arcane law, never used under similar circumstances, violates our understanding of the criminal justice system," Levin said. He noted that senators and former President Reagan had made fund-raising appeals by phone from federal offices without being prosecuted.
As of Tuesday evening, Reno was still awaiting a formal recommendation from the task force. But two government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Reno and the task force have had a regular, continuing exchange on the state of the review. "Nothing in the formal recommendation is going to come as a surprise to her," said one official.
The officials indicated that task force investigators needed more time not only to determine the facts of the matter but also to resolve legal questions about whether Gore's activities were covered by a 114-year-old law barring solicitation of campaign contributions on federal property.
White House officials say they expect Reno to extend the probe to the second stage - if only to allow more time to sort out the legal issues of applying 114-year-old law to the calls, which Gore has acknowledged making. He maintains they were legal.
Asked whether the Clinton administration was resigned to a 90-day review, White House press secretary Mike McCurry told reporters, "It would not be unreasonable if the attorney general wanted to take some additional time to review what the law is. It's not unreasonable to assume she might do that, but again we're not in position to comment" on what Reno might do.
"In theory, there are some advantages to a 90-day review period because you can begin to look at the law and people can present facts so we can dispose of these matters," McCurry said.
Reno also is conducting a 30-day review of whether to look further into assertions that President Clinton made similar fund-raising calls from the White House.
The law in question forbids campaign fund raising in federal offices, but there are conflicting opinions on whether it applies to the type of calls made by Gore and Clinton.
The president has said he can't remember for sure whether he made fund-raising calls but said he may have. A top aide has told Senate investigators Clinton did make some fund-raising calls from the residential part of the White House.
By The Associated Press
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