Attorney General Janet Reno, badgered for months by Republicans outraged she has not sought an independent counsel to investigate Democratic campaign practices, takes to heart the old adage about sticks and stones.

"For anybody to be in this job and worried about what people are going to think as opposed to worrying about what's right - that's when you get into trouble," Reno said at her weekly press conference Thursday. The session was dominated by questions about how far she is willing to take the fund-raising inquiries."My mother used to tell me, `My dear, you're beginning to worry too much about what people will think of you and not about what you are doing,' " she said.

For months, Reno has been at the center of the argument over how to investigate the way the Democratic Party, including her boss, President Clinton, raised money for Clinton's re-election.

Some Republicans have accused Reno of knuckling under to political pressure by declining thus far to seek an independent counsel to probe the gamut of fund-raising activities in the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election campaign.

Senior Justice Department prosecutors disagree on the issue.

Reno's GOP critics were not mollified by two separate preliminary inquiries she announced over the past week - one targeting Vice President Al Gore and the other focusing on former White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes. Each could lead to appointment of an independent counsel.

A fence-mending trip to Capitol Hill on Wednesday apparently did not do the trick. Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, issued a harsh denunciation, accusing Reno of shirking her duty.

Through it all, the blunt-spoken former Dade County, Fla., prosecutor has had one response: She will do it her way. She even had kind words for Hatch.

"I am devoted to Senator Hatch," she said without a trace of sarcasm. "He has been very kind and very thoughtful to me. But I've got to make my decision based on the evidence and the law, and not by admonitions from him."

To suggestions by Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, that she is protecting the president and vice president, Reno countered: "I've explained to him that if I were trying to do that, I should go home."