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Reno Said at Risk of Being Impeached

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Echoing growing clamor within Republican ranks, a key senator suggested Sunday that Atty. Gen. Janet Reno is moving dangerously close to impeachment proceedings if she does not soon appoint an independent counsel to review irregularities in Democratic Party campaign financing.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blasted Reno for her steadfast refusal to turn over to an outside prosecutor her investigation into whether the Clinton White House violated any laws in its pursuit of large campaign donations in last year’s presidential election.

He said he is particularly irked that Clinton and other top Democratic officials say they want campaign finance reform yet continue to participate in large party fund-raisers. As long as their attorney general keeps the investigation on her desk, he said, no honest review of the Democrats’ practices will ever be conducted.

“Bill Clinton calling for campaign finance reform is about like Bonnie and Clyde saying the nature of the problem is the absence of banking regulation,” McConnell said on the “Fox News Sunday” TV program.

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“This guy broke existing laws,” he said. “We don’t need any new laws to point out the obvious. It’s already against the law to take money from foreigners. It’s already against the law to engage in money laundering. And it’s already against the law to raise money on federal property.

“We ought to have an independent counsel appointed by the Justice Department. Reno has refused to do it, consistently. She runs the risk, it seems to me, very soon of having impeachment proceedings started against her in the House because she’s refusing to do her duty.”

Reno has come under intense fire recently, including a suggestion by conservative newspaper columnist William Safire that her refusal to turn the campaign finance matter over to an outside prosecutor could lead to her impeachment. But she has not wavered from her initial decision that, for the time being, the Justice Department is the proper place to investigate the allegations.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), interviewed on ABC-TV’s “This Week” program, agreed that rank-and-file House members have been increasingly perturbed by Reno’s reluctance to seek an independent counsel.

“I think there is a deep feeling that the attorney general should in fact appoint an independent counsel. That if she can’t, she needs to recuse herself from this entire case, because the fact is that there is no legal ground for her avoiding the appointment of an independent counsel,” Gingrich said.

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Gingrich declined to say specifically if he thought impeachment proceedings are a possibility, noting that the House would have to conduct hearings before reaching any conclusion.

“I would hope that the attorney general would move rather quickly,” he said. “I see no excuse for avoiding the appointment of an independent counsel because the assertions of potential violation of law are so clear and decisive.”

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On Saturday, Clinton devoted his weekly radio address to the issue of campaign finance reform. He specifically urged passage of a measure offered by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.) that would impose new restrictions on how political money can be used.

The bill already has the backing of all 45 Democrats in the Senate and three Republicans, and Clinton strongly challenged Congress to pass the legislation this fall.

Feingold, appearing on the Fox program with McConnell, said his measure carries the kind of joint support from both parties that is needed for true reform.

“We think the ground is beginning to move on this issue, and we’re very, very excited about the prospects for bipartisan reform this year,” he said. “We’re ready to go.”

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But McConnell, who heads the Republicans’ senatorial fund-raising efforts, said the bill would never clear the Senate because too many Republicans in the GOP-controlled Congress believe that it is unconstitutional. He said it would infringe on 1st Amendment guarantees by putting restrictions on the amounts and kinds of money that the public can donate to political causes.


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