Attorney General Janet Reno announced today that the Department of Justice is looking into possible criminal violations by Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, based on "allegations that have been widely reported by the news media." Several Republicans have demanded that Brown resign because of his complex financial relationship with his former business partner, a Washington businesswoman named Nolanda Hill. Brown said he divested all interest in Hill''s company a year after becoming commerce secretary; but he acknowledged receiving $400,000 in payments from her. Reno, whose department briefly investigated allegations against Brown last year before dismissing them, now has 90 days to decide whether or not to ask a special court to name an independent prosecutor to conduct a full criminal investigation. But the damage is already done, says TIME Washington correspondent James Carney. "Ron Brown has been one of the more successful people in this administration," Carney notes. "He is also somebody that the president owes a great deal to, and cannot cast off lightly, so it puts Clinton in a tough spot."