WASHINGTON - Declaring that she "will not hesitate" to name an independent counsel if it is warranted, Attorney General Janet Reno told a congressional committee Tuesday the Justice Department and FBI are vigorously pursuing their campaign fund-raising investigation.
Facing the House committee that is probing campaign abuses a day after the White House belatedly turned over new documents in the investigation, Reno defended her refusal to seek an independent prosecutor for President Clinton's and Vice President Al Gore's fund-raising.
"If, at any time, specific and credible evidence develops indicating that the Independent Counsel Act should be triggered, I will not hesitate to trigger it," Reno said in remarks prepared for delivery to the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.
Reno also defended her refusal to provide the House panel with the memo of FBI Director Louis Freeh, who disagrees with Reno's decision to not seek an independent counsel.
She said she and Freeh fear that providing the memo would tip off "potential targets of our approach and of our analysis." Of her disagreement with Freeh over appointing an independent counsel, she said "that is healthy; it promotes good investigative work and clear thinking about the law."
Reno and Freeh both appeared before the committee.
On the eve of Tuesday's testimony, a new controversy erupted: the tardy production of Oval Office notes created in 1995 and 1996 that talk about Clinton's "money coffees" in the White House Map Room.
Typed on a computer by White House aide Janis Kearney, the notes include a June 18, 1996, entry drawing a distinction between "money" coffees for big-time donors and a "political" coffee held that day for political and community leaders.
According to the entry, another White House aide named "Nancy H." explained "the difference between the 'money' coffees and the 'political/issues' coffees as how much he interjected," referring to Clinton.
Kearney's husband is longtime Clinton aide Bob Nash, who goes back to Clinton's Arkansas days and is now White House personnel director.
The notes, about 200 pages in all, were heavily blacked out, with only the relevant fund-raising information visible. They were discovered by Kearney in November but not turned over to House and Senate investigative committees until Monday - even though Congress subpoenaed the White House for all relevant documents about fund-raising months ago, officials said.
"Once again, the Clinton White House has kept vital information from the Congress and the American people," Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman of the House committee, complained.
"They keep calling it a mistake, yet how can it be a simple mistake when videotapes are forgotten and when notes taken from the Oval Office itself are missing for nine months?" Burton said.
White House special counsel Lanny Davis said the notes shed little new light on events that investigators already have known about for months. Davis attributed the delay in producing the material to the need for presidential lawyers to review it.
Davis said the Justice Department had some of the material before Reno decided last week not to call for an independent prosecutor.
Kearney's notes reflect the growing concern about news stories on campaign fund-raising abuses in the final days of last year's presidential campaign.
At a senior staff meeting, when an aide asks "What do you think will come of this?" another responds that the Federal Election Commission "likely won't be able to finish an investigation before election."
When one aide refers to fund-raising abuses by both Democrats and Republicans, Kearney records that "Leon," an apparent reference to then-White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, chuckled and said, "this will certainly help move campaign reform forward."
In an Oct. 30, 1996, entry of events for the day, Panetta refers in a senior staff meeting to "he," presumably the president, going to a DNC event. The notes then record this entry: "(Leon:...another one of those events where people come through the back door.)" White House aides Monday night said they were unable to explain what the entry meant.
By The Associated Press
Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.