A House committee has voted to cite her for contempt, yet Attorney General Janet Reno is not bowing to congressional pressure to turn over papers in a campaign finance probe. She dismissed the request as "political tampering."
"I simply have to draw the line and stand up for what I believe to be a very important principle," Reno said after the vote Thursday. "Prosecutions in America must be free of political influence."Reno said she hoped for an accommodation. But she rejected complying with a congressional subpoena, calling it "a form of political tampering that no prosecutor in America can accept."
Republicans on the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee recommended to the full House that Reno be held in contempt for resisting a committee subpoena ordering her to turn over reports recommending that she seek an independent counsel to investigate campaign fund raising.
The 24-19 vote setting up an extraordinary confrontation between Congress and the Justice Department was along party lines. Independent Rep. Bernard Sanders of Vermont joined the Democrats in opposition.
The full House will not consider the issue before September, when lawmakers return from their August recess, said committee Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind. "I hope that she complies so that we don't have to do that," he said.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., accused Burton of trying to force Reno to seek the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate allegations that Clinton-Gore '96 and the Democratic National Committee violated campaign finance laws.
"Every member of this committee, Republican or Democrat, should be embarrassed by this strong-arm tactic," Waxman said.
Reno has said she expects to make a decision on seeking an independent counsel within three weeks. FBI Director Louis Freeh and Charles LaBella, former head of the department's campaign finance task force, wrote separate recommendations to Reno that she seek an independent counsel.
In testimony before the committee Tuesday, Freeh said he believed the fact that the people under scrutiny include White House officials and their associates should leave Reno no choice.
"I couldn't think of a stronger argument for an independent counsel," said Freeh, who made his recommendation nine months ago. LaBella's report was filed July 16.
But Freeh and LaBella sided with Reno on the question of turning over the reports, saying that divulging the details would damage the investigation and have a chilling effect on prosecutors elsewhere.