WASHINGTON — Atty. Gen. Janet Reno asked a federal appeals court Friday to appoint Robert B. Fiske Jr. as an independent counsel to continue his investigation of President Clinton's investments with the owner of a failed Arkansas thrift.
Reno took the action a day after Clinton signed legislation reviving the independent counsel statute, which had lapsed for 18 months.
Last January, Reno appointed Fiske as special counsel to probe the Whitewater and related investments of Clinton and his wife Hillary during Clinton's terms as Arkansas governor. But she had said repeatedly that it would be better for an independent panel of judges to appoint the person pursuing the investigation.
Under the statute passed by Congress this week, a special division of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit appoints independent counsels.
"I hereby request that the court appoint a statutory independent counsel as soon as possible, and that the court appoint Robert B. Fiske Jr., so that he may continue his ongoing investigation without disruption and with the full independence provided by the act," Reno wrote the appeals court.
Fiske "has not reported to the Department of Justice concerning his investigative results or the direction of his investigation," Reno added. She said the new independent counsel statute allows the court to choose Fiske.
Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.) criticized Reno's action, saying Fiske was too closely tied to present and former Administration officials to be sufficiently independent.
Faircloth also called it "highly improper" for Reno to recommend Fiske's appointment. He said she should encourage the judges "to appoint a new, truly independent counsel."
The independent counsel statute provides only for criminal jurisdiction. Under his appointment by Reno, Fiske also had civil jurisdiction, the ability to file a civil suit against people or entities investigated.
If the court names someone else as independent counsel on the matter, Reno said she also would name that person "as an independent special attorney to handle all civil aspects of the investigation."