Reno on Rewind

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WASHINGTON: Fittingly, the hearings began with a rerun. Janet Reno was shown a 1993 recording of herself defending the independent counsel law because "there is an inherent conflict whenever senior executive branch officials are to be investigated by the Department of Justice."

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, in charge of Wednesday's grilling of Reno and her plodding investigations into White House fund-raising, had certainly made his point. But in partisan politics, nothing is ever simple, or simply put.

From there, the hearings quickly degenerated into the kind of verbal volleys Republicans have been firing for nearly a year. Indignant GOPers played tapes, read documents and demanded action.

Reno sometimes bristled at her questioners' professed impatience. "It is important that members of Congress don't second-guess an investigation," said the Attorney General. "They don't understand all the information that is before us," she added pointing out that legally speaking, she was not at liberty to provide details. Translation: I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you.

By late afternoon, Reno and her Republican questioners had resigned themselves to a familiar routine: prods about the "appearance of impropriety" and the multiple embarrassments at the hands of the President and the press. Barney Frank screamed hypocrisy; most Democrats just looked tired. It had all been said before. They just wanted to do it in person, and on live television.

  • A side note: Don't be surprised if Henry Hyde winds up with label-of-the-year honors for his Remus-esque mention of "Blind Tom O'Brien," apparently a Cook County sheriff of yore who was less than vigilant in his enforcement duties. Of course, Hyde assured Reno, he meant absolutely nothing by the reference ....