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Fund Probe Was ‘Pressure Cooker’

May 24, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Justice Department prosecutor testified today that the investigation of 1996 Democratic fund raising was ``a pressure cooker,″ but not because the attorney general’s job might be at stake.

Career prosecutor Lee Radek, called before a Senate subcommittee to explain remarks he made about the probe during a 1996 meeting, said he didn’t remember the disputed conversation. But Radek said he never linked pressure he felt investigating the fund raising for President Clinton’s re-election to questions about whether Clinton would retain Attorney General Janet Reno in his second term.

``It would be a lie,″ Radek said. Instead of pressure to protect Reno, Radek said he felt pressured to ``do a good job, to do it vigorously and do it well.″

After Radek, the subcommittee was to hear a differing account from an FBI assistant director who was at the 1996 meeting and claimed to hear Radek’s remarks. Radek’s disputed comments first came to light as part of a memo by FBI Director Louis Freeh, reported by The Associated Press last week.

The 1996 memo by Freeh, who was not at the meeting, recounted another top FBI official’s description of Radek saying ``that there was a lot of `pressure’ on him ... regarding this case because the attorney general’s job might hang in the balance (or words to that effect).″

The memo summed up Freeh’s arguments for involving the FBI in the campaign finance probe and including the FBI in any decision by Reno on whether to seek appointment of an independent counsel. Subcommittee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., read the memo at the hearing.

Radek said he has ``no recollection″ of the conversation in question with the FBI’s then-deputy director, William Esposito, and assistant director, Neil Gallagher, who also was testifying today before the Judiciary subcommittee on administrative oversight.

``It was a pressure cooker. We were being scrutinized by Congress, the news media, and the attorney general,″ Radek said. The prosecutors feared the attorney general or the media ``would find a fact″ before the task force learned it, he said.

He acknowledged, under questioning by Specter, that he had read in newspapers that it was uncertain that Clinton would keep Reno on as attorney general.

Reno was under great pressure to seek an independent counsel to look into alleged fund-raising improprieties in Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign. Reno resisted an independent prosecutor for fund raising, but she obtained court appointment of seven independent counsels to investigate the president and his administration.

In the memo to Esposito, Freeh said ``I ... advised the attorney general of Lee Radek’s comment to you that there was a lot of ‘pressure’ on him″ and the Justice Department’s public integrity section ``regarding this case because the attorney general’s job might hang in the balance (or words to that effect).″

After the AP reported Freeh’s Dec. 9, 1996, memo last week, Reno said she never bowed to political pressure. ``I call it like I see it, regardless of the consequences. I’ve got a month-to-month lease on my apartment, and I’ve been prepared to go home from the beginning,″ she said.

Reno added she did not recall Freeh briefing her on Radek’s purported remarks or ``talking about pressure because of the job.″

The memo, portions of which were read to the AP by government sources who have seen it, did not say where the pressure was coming from. The memo was turned over belatedly to Senate investigators last week.

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