Attorney General Janet Reno could be forced to resign if she defies her top investigators and refuses to appoint an independent counsel to examine alleged White House wrongdoing during the 1996 presidential campaign, Sen. Orrin Hatch said Sunday.
Under fire by Republicans on Capitol Hill, Reno is being pressured to seek a special prosecutor to investigate campaign fund-raising practices by the Clinton administration. She recently defied a subpoena by the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee to turn over two internal Justice Department documents that recommended she seek an independent counsel.The committee's chairman, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., has threatened to bring contempt charges against Reno for ignoring the subpoena.
One of the documents being sought is a November 1997 memo from FBI Director Louis Freeh. The other was submitted last month by Charles LaBella, who headed a Justice Department campaign finance task force. Both memos, Justice officials have said, recommended the appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate the alleged violations. Reno rejected Freeh's request last fall but she is still considering LaBella's advice.
Hatch said Reno has agreed to meet with him and his House counterpart, Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., after she takes a few weeks to review LaBella's memo.
"We are not going to subpoena those (memos) until we sit down with her probably toward the end of the month. . . . If she doesn't do the right thing here she will lose credibility, because I believe you cannot ignore the top investigators," Hatch said on NBC's "Meet the Press" program.
"By ignoring the top people in her administration, she is going to start losing credibility with the American people, and I think it probably would have to lead to her resignation," Hatch added.
The Republican-led Congress already has held extensive hearings on the funneling of illegal foreign contributions to the Democratic Party during the 1996 election and whether President Clinton and other senior officials violated campaign contribution rules by asking for donations from White House phones or using visits or overnight stays at the White House to solicit contributions.
On Friday, the deputy majority leader in the Senate called for Reno to resign if she fails to appoint a campaign finance special prosecutor.
"I don't think she's doing her job," Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., said in a floor speech. "I think she's more involved in more of a coverup of the president's activities or the White House's activities than she is enforcing the law."
Others who previously have echoed Nickles' comments include House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson.
However, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., a member of Hatch's committee, said Reno's resignation would have little impact.