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Jewish World Review / July 27, 1998 / 4 Menachem-Av, 5758

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg Forget about Bubba,
it's time to investigate Reno

HOW MANY TIMES now has the attorney general of the United States had to invoke independent counsels to investigate this administration --10? And month after month, she's been staring at the need for an 11th --to investigate her boss' campaign finances.

Reflective Reno.
And still she dawdles. This wouldn't be the first campaign to re-elect the president (CREEP) that needed investigating. But thanks to this attorney general's molasses-like progress, CREEP II may never be exposed. The price of exoneration is eternal vacillation.

Janet Reno still hasn't run out of excuses for inaction. Although one after another, her advisers have pointed out that she has no choice -- no decent or legal or moral choice -- but to turn this matter over to the proper authorities, which donot include her. Or anybody she controls. Or any other appointee of the current suspect-in-chief.

For how can an attorney general investigate her own colleagues, or her own boss, without risking the kind of conflict that independent counsels were created to avoid? No way. But still the attorney general searches for one.

Ms. Reno has been dodging her responsibility, and the obvious, for some time. It's now going on a year since the director of the FBI, Louis Freeh, said of this campaign-finance scandal: "It is difficult to imagine a more compelling case for appointing an independent counsel." Indeed it is.

But when it comes to not facing facts, Ms. Reno may be the most dilatory attorney general the country has known since Richard Nixon's buddy, John Mitchell. Or maybe since Harry Daugherty of the Harding era and debacle.

Well, the comparison to Warren Harding and his cronies may not be exact, for the country eventually found out about all the Harding scandals. But thanks to Janet Reno, the country may never be able to determine the full extent of the Clinton Follies. Even if she appoints an independent counsel now, there has been plenty of time for any culprits to get their stories straight and hide the evidence. Time is on the side of the guilty.

Now word is out that the learned counsel General Reno appointed from within her own Justice Department -- Charles La Bella -- has agreed that she has no alternative but to appoint still another independent counsel.

What else could he say? For this is the kind of scandal that independent counsels were designed to investigate -- a scandal that reaches so high that the attorney general cannot investigate it without the clear and increasingly present danger that her duty will conflict with the interest of the president who appointed her. Not to mention the vice president and other higher-ups. That is what Louis Freeh concluded ages ago as today's politics go. And now Charles La Bella agrees.

What will the attorney general do now, bring in still another lawyer until she finds one who will somehow, some way, let her and the president off the hook? We wouldn't put it past her. In her own stolid way, she's as slick as any other clintonoid. Look at how she evaded any real responsibility for that fiery horror outside Waco, Texas, early on in this administration and continuous scandal.

First, the attorney general found a way to block any independent investigation of those highly dubious phone calls the president and vice president made from the White House. You know, the ones that were perfectly legal but that Messrs. Clinton and Gore have made it clear they wouldn't make again. When the vice president talked about no controlling legal authority in that context, he might as well have been talking about Janet Reno's role in this administration.

As for the other campaign scandals that have gone uninvestigated in any meaningful or competent way, the trail already has grown cold thanks to the Justice Department's diligent search for only small fry. If the attorney general will just continue to consult instead of act, not even the most independent of counsels might be able to get to the bottom of this dankness. Nothing hides guilt like time.

And so the madcap adventures of Warren G. Clinton continue. Or should that be Richard M. Clinton? Both those role models come to mind -- Tricky Dick and the poor slob who gave us Normalcy -- when one looks for precedents for the ethical wasteland this administration has made of government. Even as this president proclaimed it The Most Ethical Administration in history. (Bill Clinton always did like his little joke.)

And still Janet Reno dithers, deliberates, delays. There apparently is to be no end to it, any more than there is to be an end to Clinton scandals.

For it is not the first scandal of an administration that sets its tone, but how that administration treats it. It can act swiftly, dismiss those responsible and insist on a government "clean as a hound's tooth," to quote Dwight Eisenhower. Now there was a president who knew how to end a scandal -- even if it meant firing his closest and oldest political associate, his right hand, Sherman Adams.

Then again, an administration can shut its eyes, hold out until it can't possibly hold out any longer, vilify the prosecutors or, better yet, find a way not to appoint prosecutors in the first place. Which is what the Hardings and Nixons tried. And which is what this president and his attorney general are trying now. With considerable success. Indeed this president is proving as popular as Richard M. Nixon was --in 1972.

It is too early to talk about the impeachment of William J. Clinton. But if his attorney general fails to uphold the law, and violates its clear mandate in this case, it won't be too early to talk about the impeachment of Janet Reno.


7/23/98: Ghosts on the roof, 1998
7/21/98: The new elegance
7/16/98: In defense of manners
7/13/98: Another day, another delay: what's missing from the scandal news
7/9/98:The language-wars continue
7/7/98:The new Detente
7/2/98: Bubba in Beijing: history does occur twice
6/30/98: Hurry back, Mr. President -- to freedom
6/24/98: When Clinton follows Quayle's lead
6/22/98: Independence Day, 2002
6/18/98: Adventures in poli-speke

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate