Attorney General Janet Reno is ordering another look at Vice President Gore's telephone calls soliciting campaign contributions to see whether an independent counsel should be named.
On Wednesday, Ms. Reno authorized a second 90-day preliminary investigation by her campaign finance task force into the 45 telephone calls Gore made from his office in the fall of 1995 and spring of 1996, according to court documents made public today.
Last December, she closed a similar 90-day probe of Gore's calls, saying there wasn't evidence to warrant an independent counsel investigation. Justice Department officials say that unless new evidence emerges during this 90-day probe, Ms. Reno is likely to again reject an independent counsel investigation of these calls.
As required by the independent counsel law, Ms. Reno relayed her decision Wednesday to a three-judge court that picks counsels, but the court did not authorize her to publicly announce it until this morning.
"The authors of the act established a preliminary investigation period to allow us to ensure that any decision to appoint an independent counsel would be based on thorough analysis," Ms. Reno said today in a written statement. "During the preliminary investigation, I will consider the facts and I will consider the law, but I will consider nothing else."
President Clinton, traveling in Worcester, Mass., said today that Gore has done nothing wrong. "I am confident that all of the vice president's actions were legal and proper, and that any review will conclude that," he said.
Gore spokesman Chris Lehane said today, "The vice president will continue to cooperate fully with the Department of Justice. . . . While we understand the need for the Justice Department to complete its preliminary review, we are confident it will once again conclude that everything the vice president did was legal and proper."
Gore's attorney, James F. Neal, said the vice president has been interviewed twice about the calls and "has fully, completely and honestly answered every question."
The attorney general has steadfastly rejected Republican demands that she request an independent counsel to probe an array of questionable Democratic fund-raising practices during the '96 campaign.