“The concern was that the vice president called it a ‘fund-raiser’ and made references to it being ‘finance-related,’” Reno said this morning. “I reached the conclusion that he vice president had not, based on this record, failed to describe what the role [of the events] in fund-raising was.”
Reno ‘Couldn’t Get Past Threshold’
Reno said the threshold for appointing a special counsel had not been met. The law directs the attorney general to name a special prosecutor in cases where criminal investigation is warranted, when prosecution by the Justice Department would present a conflict of interest, and when it is in the public interest for a prosecutor outside the department to assume responsibility for the matter.
“I couldn’t get past that threshold,” she said.
“This goes to the heart of everything that we care about in this country,” Reno insisted. “You don’t pursue a case where there is no basis for concluding that you can make a case. You don’t put people through an investigation where you don’t, based on the law and the principles that govern our conduct, think you can find the evidence that would justify further action.”
The attorney general said she made her final decision over the weekend and vehemently denied being influenced by politics, even as she finds herself in the center of a political firestorm. Reno has repeatedly been called on the carpet to testify on Capitol Hill about her decisions in this and other matters. And many Republican lawmakers have called for her resignation.
“I don’t do things based on politics,” she said firmly. “I realize that politics will be hurled around my head. I just sit there and duck if it comes and continue to look at the evidence and the law and make the best judgment I can.”
Reno said the decision was a difficult one. “There were mornings I woke up and said ‘Maybe I should appoint a special counsel,’” she admitted.
In her remarks today, the attorney general also lashed out at media leaks on the matter, criticizing the release of Conrad’s internal recommendation that a special prosecutor be appointed.
“Such a release … is not fair to those involved,” she said, “and it undermines the fairness and credibility of our entire criminal justice system.”
The attorney general also downplayed her disagreement with Conrad, whom she called “an excellent prosecutor.”
“There will always be disagreement among lawyers,” she explained. “The Supreme Court often splits five to four. The arguments around this table where I have my staff meetings are vigorous and that’s the way I want it.”
Conrad will remain in charge of the Justice Department’s continuing campaign finance probe.
“The task force will, of course, continue its ongoing investigation into illegal fund-raising activity,” Reno said, “and will be free to pursue all avenues of the investigation wherever they may lead.”