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RENO SEEMS UNLIKELY TO SEEK FUND-RAISING COUNSEL

Attorney General Janet Reno appears unlikely to seek an independent counsel for campaign-related questions involving President Clinton and Vice President Gore, Justice Department officials said.

Ms. Reno faces fast-approaching deadlines to decide the Clinton and Gore cases and a third case covering former top White House aide Harold Ickes.

Justice Department officials said Ms. Reno still was getting information and recommendations from her aides and has yet to make a final decision on the three cases.

The officials said the Gore case involving allegations that he lied to FBI agents about telephone fund-raising calls from his office was the weakest and appeared unlikely to require an independent counsel. Ms. Reno must decide on that case by Tuesday.

The Clinton case revolving around allegations he violated campaign spending laws through a barrage of television advertisements during his re-election effort was a closer call and could go either way but probably will end up without an independent counsel, the officials said.

Clinton has maintained he and his advisers had been assured by Democratic Party lawyers that the ads were legal. Ms. Reno has until Dec. 7 to decide the Clinton case.

The third case involving allegations that Ickes committed perjury before a Senate panel investigating campaign fund-raising abuses was considered the most likely one to trigger an outside counsel.

Ms. Reno's decision in that case is due Nov. 30.

The Gore case concerned two interviews a year ago during a Justice Department investigation of 45 fund-raising calls he made from his office before the 1996 election. Ms. Reno in December decided the evidence did not warrant an independent counsel.

Gore told investigators he believed his calls were for so-called "soft money" accounts for party-building activities rather than for the Clinton-Gore campaign and as a result were not limited by campaign finance laws.

But a White House memo discovered earlier this year with hand-written notes by onetime Gore aide David Strauss appeared to contradict his account.

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