No Counsel

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: After hinting for weeks that she could find nothing criminal in the Democrats' 1996 fundraising efforts, Attorney General Janet Reno formally rejected Republican demands for an independent investigation. In a letter to Congress, Reno said the legal threshold for appointing an outside counsel was not met. "A task force of career Justice Department prosecutors and FBI agents ... is pursuing the investigation vigorously and diligently, and it will continue to do so," she wrote. The reason? Reno found a giant loophole in the law that makes it a crime to raise money on federal property, as the Democrats so deftly did. The loophole, opened in 1979, essentially made it a crime only to raise on federal property the small amounts of "hard money" that go straight to the candidates ($1,000 or less per donor) and exempted the huge amounts of "soft money" funneled to the parties. So far, the tens of thousands of doccuments released by the Democratic National Committee and former White House staffer Harold Ickes, have shown no "smoking gun" that would allow Reno to name a special prosecutor. Even before she officially announced her decision, GOP leaders began hurling politically charged attacks, charging that the attorney general herself should be investigated to determine who might have influenced her decision. House Majority Leader Dick Armey said Reno should resign rather than continue representing a corrupt administration. And Speaker Newt Gingrich said the House judiciary committee should go ahead with its own probe of the "mound of evidence" with or without Reno. Monday, Reno's answer was that her own task force of 25 lawyers and FBI agents should be sufficient.