Reno Demurs

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WASHINGTON: Al Gore didn't even need to turn on the TV for this one. To the surprise of absolutely no one (and the consternation of Dan Burton), Janet Reno on Tuesday again declined to appoint an independent counsel to investigate the vice president's dollar-dialing habits during the '96 campaign and whether he then lied about them to Justice investigators.

The typically last-minute decision is more ammunition for Reno's administration-hunting critics -- Rep. Burton accused the attorney general of "protecting the President" even before the decision was announced. But Gore, with his presidential viability hanging in the balance, can't rest easy just yet. "He has the most to fear from the Harold Ickes probe," TIME Washington correspondent Elaine Shannon says of a similar decision Reno will be making on Monday. "Ickes, Gore and Clinton were all at the same meetings -- and that's the case that's most compelling for Reno to appoint an outside investigator." And if he (or she) has even a fraction of Ken Starr's tenacity, Gore can probably kiss those West Wing dreams good-bye.