Janet Reno, who two months ago had trouble finding clear and compelling evidence of wrongdoing in the White House, seems suddenly to have regained her vision. That is encouraging for Americans who wonder whether all the smoke swirling around the Clinton administration has its origin in a fire.
With the announcement that Attorney General Reno is authorizing the appointment of a special prosecutor to examine Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's role in the rejection of an Indian gaming project, the number of ongoing investigations now has reached four. Other than Kenneth Starr's high-profile probe of the Whitewater and Monica Lewinski scandals, special prosecutors are looking into actions by former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy and former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros.A special prosecutor was appointed to examine Eli Segal, the head of Americorp, but that probe ended without any indictments. Former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown also was investigated, but he died in a plane crash before the probe was finished.
Critics shake their heads and point to the tremendous cost of these investigations. We agree it is too bad the administration has had to make Americans pay so much to know whether their suspicions have any validity. But certainly it would be irresponsible for Reno to ignore the allegations.
All of which makes it increasingly difficult to understand why she refused to appoint a prosecutor to learn whether Clinton used the White House and his office in a variety of improper ways to raise campaign funds. The law requires her to appoint an independent counselor if she is unable to determine whether a law was broken. Clearly, by her own statements, she could not make that determination in the White House fund-raising case.
Even with the probe of Babbitt, Reno is trying hard to keep fund raising out of the picture. She said the investigation should concern itself solely with whether Babbitt lied to Congress about the reasons he rejected a request by three Wisconsin Indian tribes to use federal land for a casino. Rival tribes subsequently donated money to the Democratic Party.
Perhaps the judicial panel that will appoint a prosecutor should look for a magician. Most normal prosecutors probably wouldn't be able to study this issue without finding themselves hip-deep in the greater issue of fund raising - one that may lead to the White House.
Given the fact he has less than three years left, the president is likely to leave office before most of these investigations are completed. But at least the attorney general now seems to understand that the American people deserve to know the truth.