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Attorney General Janet Reno is taking another verbal beating from some Republicans and a few self-righteous members of the media because she refused to appoint an independent counsel to investigate the 1996 campaign fund-raising by Vice President Gore.

Critics are trying to portray Reno as a sycophant of President Clinton and a toady of the Democratic National Committee. She is accused of letting them and Gore get away with what the New York Times calls possible corruption of the very essentials of government in their zealous money grubbing in the last presidential election.

I think Reno can sleep soundly knowing that most Americans regard her as a very gutsy lady who has dared to use the Independent Counsel Act to heap untold miseries upon the president who appointed her, upon Hillary Rodham Clinton and upon her fellow Cabinet members and Justice Department associates. They know she has not been anybody's puppet where there were credible charges of official wrongdoing, having referred charges against six Clinton administration officials to special prosecutors.

Some may rejoice that she has not called for another independent counsel because they have been sickened by the multifaceted, seemingly endless, shamefully costly and ultimately desperate witch hunt of independent counsel Kenneth Starr. But there are other sound and compelling reasons why Reno should have decided against another celebrated probe in the Gore case.

First, she knows that our campaign-financing laws are a nightmarish muddle of riddles, loopholes and absurdities, including some archaic restrictions against phone calls from the White House and other government properties.

She surely understands that in 1996 Clinton and Gore broke some rules and bent most of the others as they struggled to raise enough money to overcome the traditional Republican advantage in fund-raising. She may think, as do I, that their greatest crime in Republican eyes was that while they didn't raise as much money as the GOP, they succeeded enough to get re-elected.

Second, the American people have seen enough of efforts to reverse the results of their 1996 electoral decision and wouldn't stomach a Justice-backed campaign to destroy Gore on the basis of his raising "soft money" as against "hard money," terms that are "Greek" to the average voter.

Third, there are fair remedies for all the fund-raising abuses of the past by both parties that do not involve merely trying to destroy one politician or one party, and that is for Congress to pass campaign-finance legislation that everyone can understand.

Fourth, Ms. Reno was right not to swallow the argument that Clinton, Gore and others had engaged in some corrupt and dangerous plot to change U.S. policies toward China, Indonesia or other countries in order to get them to pump funds into the Democratic campaign.

It should surprise no one that these Asian nations would see the Democrats as more friendly than the Republicans. Nor is it surprising that they tried to influence the outcome of our election, just as we have tried to influence the outcome of scores of elections in other countries.

But the attorney general failed to see, as do I, any credible evidence that Clinton or Gore conspired to "sell out" America or its foreign interests just to get campaign funds.

Fifth, Ms. Reno sees that so many innocent people have been harmed, as in Starr's Whitewater probe, by losing their jobs, incurring monstrous legal bills, even going to prison, although Starr now says he has not found the criminal acts by the president and Mrs. Clinton that he set out to uncover. Small wonder that this attorney general refuses to open up hundreds more people to unfair abuse with another misguided appointment of an independent counsel to mostly regurgitate political campaign claims of excesses that are far from nation-threatening.

North America Syndicate

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