Reno Says No

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There she was late Friday afternoon, once again up to her neck in yet another independent counsel dilemma and once again waiting until the last minute to announce her decision. This time the focus of Attorney General Janet Reno's concern was former White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes. The question: whether Ickes, who denies all wrongdoing, had lied before a Senate inquiry on campaign finances regarding administration actions supportive of the Teamsters union. Minutes before the close of business, Reno filed her decision: no independent counsel. The Friday get-out-of-town ruling assured yet another loud cry of foul from Republicans over the weekend.

As with so many previous independent counsel questions involving the administration, Reno had been receiving conflicting advice from within the department. The political implications for the already besieged White House in the Ickes case were immense because a green light for an investigation could have impacted not only the President's tenuous control over the political agenda in Washington but also Al Gore's own ambitions to run for the Oval Office. Placing the Ickes case into the hands of an independent counsel could have opened up a broader inquiry into 1996 Democratic campaign finances. Reno's refusal gives her critics one more reason to accuse her of being a political attorney general. In the poisonous partisan atmosphere swirling over Washington these days, her decision is sure to further pollute relations between Democrats and Republicans.