"It's a matter of experience," says Novak. "She's been distinctly unhappy with the work of some counsels, especially Ken Starr's investigation of Clinton, Donald Smaltz's investigation of Mike Espy and David Barrett's investigation of Henry Cisneros." Her opposition has evolved slowly over time, "but she has come to believe these probes have taken a life of their own, swept in tangential people and been prosecuted harshly -- costing too much money and time," says Novak. She now agrees with her department's Public Integrity Section, which has steadfastly maintained it is willing, able and professional enough to conduct investigations of administration officials. Reno's opposition reduces the chances of renewing the independent counsel statute to near zero. Although committee chairman Fred Thompson criticized some of her independent counsel decisions, don't count on him either to save the statute: He's never supported the law for some of the same reasons as Reno.
More than any other attorney general, Janet Reno knows something about independent counsels. She has recommended the appointment of no fewer than seven during her tenure and refused to seek the appointment of a least two, most prominently on issues pertaining to Democratic campaign finances. In each instance, she has been buffeted by hurricane-force political winds. On Wednesday Reno got her chance to do her own huffing and puffing -- and do her best to blow down the whole institution in front of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. A supporter of the statute in 1993, Reno has now changed course, says TIME Washington correspondent Viveca Novak.