The following editorial appeared in Thursday's Washington Post:
WASHINGTON - Attorney General Janet Reno will undoubtedly take heat for her decision, announced Wednesday, not to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Vice President Gore. She has again rejected the advice of her campaign finance task force chief, in this case prosecutor Robert Conrad, leaving herself vulnerable to a charge of shielding Gore from a truly independent inquiry. Yet once again, Reno is correct, and her explanation is persuasive.
At issue in the current round of independent counsel fever is Gore's truthfulness in a deposition taken by Conrad in April. The prosecutor asked about White House coffees and the Hsi Lai Temple incident and was dissatisfied with Gore's answers. Conrad wanted an independent counsel to investigate whether Gore perjured himself. Reno concluded that "the transcript reflects neither false statements nor perjury" but, rather, a "disagreement about labels." Gore may have disputed that the temple event was a "fundraiser." But Reno points out that in his actual description of the incident and the coffees, "there's no ifs, ands or buts about it"; they were intended to "build a relationship so that later, you might go out and ask for a contribution." However such events are best tagged, Reno said, "I reached the conclusion that the vice president had not, based on this record, failed to describe what (their) role in fundraising was." Reno concluded that nothing in the record would support a conceivable prosecution and that, therefore, there is no basis for continued investigation of the statements let alone by a special prosecutor.
This seems right at a political as well as legal level though Reno insists that politics plays no role in her law enforcement decisions. The allegations concerning the Hsi Lai Temple incident have been hanging around for four years. To wait this long and then in the midst of an election campaign loose an independent counsel on such an improbable charge would constitute an unwarranted interference in the presidential campaign.
Both sides trashed previously accepted norms of campaign finance in 1996, with the Clinton-Gore campaign in the lead and Dole-Kemp not far behind. This year both parties are greedier than ever. The problem will not be solved in court, nor by special prosecutors. A president and Congress will have to step up, and voters in this election year will have to decide which candidates are likeliest to do so.