Memo Could Provide Mud for George W. and Rudy

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Rudy Giuliani and, to a lesser extent, George W. Bush must be licking their chops. As the two candidates get ready to do battle with, respectively, Hillary Clinton and Al Gore, a just-leaked Justice Department memo has potentially provided them with a heap of fresh mud to sling at their opponents in the coming months. The memo, from former prosecutor Charles LaBella — the man appointed by Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate allegations of high-level fund-raising improprieties during the 1996 presidential campaign — criticizes Reno for favoritism in not appointing a special prosecutor to look into possible campaign finance abuses by the White House. Parts of it were leaked to the L.A. Times, where they were quoted in Friday's editions. In very strong language, the memo blasts Justice's bosses for treating their political benefactors, including Gore and Mrs. Clinton, with kid gloves in opting to handle the probe internally. While much of LaBella's area of investigation is well known — such as the vice president's involvement in the Buddhist temple fund-raising scandal — it is the first indication that he was considering Mrs. Clinton's conduct in relation to the 1996 incidents.

"It would be surprising if Bush and Giuliani didn't use parts of this memo in some way to attack their opponents," says TIME correspondent Viveca Novak. "In fact, the release seems calculated to coincide with the campaign season. We're not sure who leaked it, but The White House suspects that it was congressional Republicans." The potential problems for Mrs. Clinton could come over illegal foreign contributions funneled to her husband's legal defense fund by disgraced Democratic National Committee fund-raiser Charlie Trie. While the Clintons told their aides to reject the funding, the report criticizes both the President and First Lady for failing to report the donation attempt to the DNC. Trie continued to contribute to the DNC and later pled guilty to fund-raising improprieties. Bush has already made campaign fund-raising a major character issue against Gore, while Giuliani, the combative mayor of New York City, has yet to really jab at the First Lady over the issue. That's surely about to change.