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Reno Urges Lawmakers to Renew Special Prosecutors Measure

May 15, 1993|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — Atty. Gen. Janet Reno said Friday that she supports renewal of the law under which independent counsels--better known as special prosecutors--may be appointed to investigate wrongdoing by high government officials.

The law, enacted 14 years ago in response to the Watergate scandal, lapsed in December after 28 Republican senators, angered by the Iran-Contra investigation by independent counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, threatened to filibuster renewal legislation.

Some Republicans object to the six years and $40 million that Walsh consumed and to his issuing an indictment during the presidential campaign that called into question President Bush's account of his role in the scandal.

But Reno told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that Walsh's investigation proved the need for renewing the law, saying an investigation of the Iran-Contra scandal by the attorney general could not have won public confidence.

"While there are legitimate concerns about the costs and burdens associated with the act, I have concluded that these are far, far outweighed by the need for the act and the public confidence it fosters," Reno told the panel, which is considering re-enacting the law.

Walsh's most vocal critic in the Senate, GOP leader Bob Dole of Kansas, called for consideration of cost controls and time limits for special prosecutors. Dole had accused Walsh of "prosecutorial excess" and reckless spending.

The new bill, responding to Republican concerns, contains a provision stating that an attorney general could use the law to investigate members of Congress.

But Reno suggested this should be more flexible, saying arguments for the provision seem to be based on a "tit-for-tat" rationale under which members of Congress should suffer the same burdens as other officials.

She also opposes a provision that an independent counsel should be periodically reappointed by a special panel of judges, which would assess his investigation, saying this would be too great an intrusion.

Former Atty. Gen. Nicholas Katzenbach, who served in the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration, said he opposes re-enactment of the law, calling it a conclusion that the attorney general's judgment could not be trusted in certain political circumstances.

"I would like to see a return to what worked well in the past," Katzenbach said. "I believe government officials should be held accountable for the conduct of their offices, and that the attorney general is no exception."

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