08/22/97 - 01:50 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Justice reviewing fund-raiser's donation to charity

WASHINGTON - A Justice Department task force is reviewing an allegation that businessman Johnny Chung donated $25,000 to then-Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary's favorite charity so a Chinese businessman could meet with her, Attorney General Janet Reno said Thursday.

Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y., called on Reno to seek court appointment of an independent counsel "to investigate the serious allegation that Ms. O'Leary violated federal criminal law."

But Reno told her weekly news conference it was too early to tell whether that step was warranted.

"We're reviewing that information now," Reno said. "And as I have said all along, we will consider each new piece of information that we get, and if it triggers the (independent counsel) statute, we'll do it."

Reno said the department's campaign finance task force is examining the donation, which was apparently unrelated to any political campaign. If it determines the contribution is outside its responsibility, the matter will be reviewed by other prosecutors in the criminal division, she said.

Justice Department officials said the task force was taking the first look at the matter solely because it already had been looking at Chung's involvement in political donations.

Chung told NBC News that a lobbyist and an aide to O'Leary suggested he make the donation while he was trying to set up the meeting.

O'Leary told USA Today that she never authorized any agency employee "to request or accept a check in exchange for a meeting."

The Energy Department aide who arranged the meeting also denied soliciting a donation, agency spokeswoman Carmen MacDougall said.

Chung is refusing to cooperate with congressional investigators of campaign financing unless he receives immunity from prosecution. Brian Sun, his lawyer, made no mention of the O'Leary episode when he discussed with Senate investigators what his client might say at hearings if he were granted immunity, said a Senate source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

By the Associated Press