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03/19/98- Updated 07:37 PM ET

Counsel named to investigate Babbitt

WASHINGTON - A three-judge court today named a Washington lawyer as an independent counsel to investigate whether Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt violated the law in connection with his testimony to Congress about an Indian casino license.

The panel charged with selecting special prosecutors chose Carol Elder Bruce, who is with a law firm that specializes in white-collar crime and civil litigation, to take charge of the case.

The three-judge panel's order said Bruce would seek to determine whether Babbitt may have violated federal law in connection with statements he made to a congressional committee "concerning an Interior decision to deny an application by three Indian tribes in Hudson, Wis. for an off-reservation gambling casino."

Bruce is a partner in the law firm of Tighe, Patton, Tabackman & Babbin.

Attorney General Janet Reno had requested a limited independent counsel investigation after concluding that Babbitt "may have testified falsely" before Congress about allegations of White House pressure on a 1995 decision to reject a Wisconsin Indian casino license. Indian tribes opposing the casino later contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democratic Party.

The secretary has denied making false statements to Congress and has said the casino decision was not influenced by campaign contributions. The decision was made by career department officials free of any White House influence, he has said.

The Cabinet officer has labeled the dispute "a high-stakes quarrel among different gambling interests" and added that he might have been "caught in the cross fire."

Thursday was the first time a special prosecutor has been sought in connection with the fund-raising controversy that has been the subject of congressional hearings and a Justice Department investigation.

Republicans had sought a broader independent counsel investigation, arguing that the casino investigation was part of a broader probe by the Justice Department into Democratic fund raising.

But the three-judge panel did not go along with that thinking in its order.

Indian tribes opposed to the casino in Hudson, Wis., lobbied the White House and in 1996 gave at least $286,000 to the Democratic Party.

By The Associated Press

Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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