Beverley Lumpkin: Halls of Justice

RAINING ON AL’s PARADE

Justice Department officials were frankly aghast at the news that Independent Counsel Robert Ray has impaneled a new grand jury to consider whether to charge the president with lying or obstruction of justice once he leaves office.

Some were saying, “Why do this at all?” Others were wondering, “Why does this have to be done before the election?” But all were saying, “Why leak this information the day of Al Gore’s nomination acceptance speech?” (I should point out that no one was willing to credit journalistic enterprise, rather than political skullduggery, with the timing.)

But one source familiar with Ray’s thinking pointed out the assembling of the new grand jury pretty much follows his timetable. He made clear on March 19 on ABCNEWS’ This Week that indictment was a possibility. He has subsequently set forth a timetable — to which he has, remarkably, adhered — for the release of his conclusions on the investigations into the FBI files and the travel office matter.

Due in September is his Whitewater report, and then the only thing remaining is Monica Lewinsky. Ray has made plain to associates he doesn’t want to dilly-dally around in January; so to be able to make a decision then, he must have the benefit of several months’ worth of testimony beforehand.

No one with whom I have spoken could say whether Ray has any new evidence in addition to that turned up by Ken Starr’s grand jury, most of which of course ended up in his report. I should also add that we have known for several months that Ray, along with the Justice Department’s campaign finance task force, is investigating the White House’s failure to produce all relevant e-mails to the many investigators who had subpoenaed or requested them. It’s unclear at this point whether this new grand jury will be examining those questions along with the Lewinsky matter.

CROCODILE TEARS FOR THE V.P.

Senate Republicans are crying crocodile tears for Vice President Al Gore, pointing out how unfair it is to him for Attorney General Janet Reno to have postponed her decision on whether there should be a special outside counsel to investigate allegations that he lied to prosecutors during a deposition last April.

But they are doubtless correct in stating that Reno’s decision —which all (including yours truly) expect to be against an outside counsel—- will open up a firestorm that can only do further damage to both Reno and Gore.

Even though she will be closing down one part of the investigation, it will revive the allegations at an unfortunate time for the vice president. And Republicans on Capitol Hill will be only too happy to keep the fires burning, demanding documents and explanations.

We now anticipate Reno will be making her decision either next week or the following week. When I asked one official if that would be just in time to deflate any post-convention bounce for Gore, he winced noticeably.

As to the substance of the decision, there is nobody, not one single solitary soul, in Main Justice who agrees with task force chief Robert Conrad’s recommendation to appoint a special counsel to investigate Gore.

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