09/23/97 - 03:37 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Reno pursuing Clinton fund-raising leads

SAN CARLOS, Calif. - Attorney General Janet Reno has taken a first step toward naming a special prosecutor to investigate President Clinton's 1996 fund-raising activities, the White House confirmed Saturday.

The Justice Department recently opened a 30-day review of Clinton's involvement in campaign money raising. Reno must determine whether to launch a more extensive, 90-day investigation that could lead to her requesting the appointment of a special prosecutor.

During this 30-day review, Clinton's attorneys hope to convince the Justice Department that there is not enough evidence against him to even begin the 90-day review.

A similar initial review is already under way in the case of Vice President Al Gore.

"We understand the Department of Justice is in the process of determining whether a preliminary investigation is warranted," said White House attorney Lanny Davis. "We are cooperating and will continue to cooperate with the Department of Justice to ensure that it has all the information it needs.

"We are confident that no laws were broken," Davis said.

Word of Reno's action came one day after officials told The Associated Press that Gore had hired two defense attorneys to try to head off the appointment of a special prosecutor. Clinton, who is already represented by defense attorney David Kendall, is not actively searching for new representation, officials said.

Congressional and FBI investigators have been conducting a sweeping inquiry into the actions of Clinton, Gore and senior White House officials to raise money for the 1996 presidential election, including allegations that foreign donations were funneled to the campaign.

Although White House officials said they did not know how Reno reached her decision, congressional and Justice Department investigators have been studying whether Clinton made fund-raising calls from the Oval Office. The president has said he does not remember making any fund-raising calls, and White House officials say the he and Gore are exempt from the law that prohibits fund-raising in government buildings.

Reno's action was disclosed while Clinton was in California for fund-raising events to collect $1 million for the debt-ridden Democratic Party.

So far, Clinton's standing in polls has not been harmed by the investigation, though Gore's chances of succeeding him in 2000 have been threatened by the cloud hanging over the administration.

Gore hired two private attorneys - Jim Neal of Nashville, Tenn., and George Frampton of Washington - to handle the case.

"The vice president wanted private counsel so he can get his position presented directly and personally to the Department of Justice," Gore spokeswoman Lorraine Voles said Friday.

Reno has until the first week of October to complete an initial 30-day review about the possibility of conducting a formal investigation into whether an independent counsel should be appointed to look into Gore's fund-raising. It was not clear when Reno took action in Clinton's case.

The White House counsel's office represents Gore only in his official capacity. Gore wants his private attorneys to convince Justice that a special prosecutor is not needed - something White House lawyers can't try to do.

An official close to Gore who spoke on condition of anonymity said the vice president's position will not change: He says he did no wrong.

In March, Gore acknowledged he had made phone solicitations to 48 Democratic donors from his White House office between November 1995 and May 1996. Federal law prohibits federal officials from making fund-raising solicitations on government property, although experts disagree whether that statute applies to calls made to donors outside the building.

Gore insists he broke no rules.

By The Associated Press

Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.