by Rod D. Martin
December 8, 1997

Last week, what everyone expected finally came to pass: Janet Reno refused to appoint an independent counsel to investigate the Clinton Gore fundraising scandal. This was shocking only in that it violated Reno’s trust with the American people and even her own stated principles concerning the independent counsel law; hardly anyone believed she would act properly.

But what happened next rocked Washington like a terrorist bomb, and induced more fear and trembling than a Hezbollah death squad. FBI Director Louis Freeh, a Clinton appointee widely considered “the butcher of Ruby Ridge,” publicly rebelled, calling on Reno to reverse her flawed, politicized decision. In the words of the New York Times, “Washington has not seen an F.B.I. Director publicly tell an Attorney General that she is wrong on the evidence and wrong on the law.” Until now.

It took no time at all for Clinton to turn on his man. A stream of attacks began almost instantly to spew out of the White House, laying blame at Freeh’s feet for the FBI Crime Lab scandal, the botched Atlanta bombing investigation, and a slew of other deeds and misdeeds. Yet this completely missed the point: Louis Freeh is a Clinton creation, and Clinton backed him against all comers through every one of these travesties. For Freeh to come forward now is not less but in fact more dramatic for these very reasons. That irony was completely lost on the man from Hope.

Freeh’s point is fourfold. He believes that the Attorney General is so mired in conflict of interest that she must let others investigate her boss if there is to be any credibility to the probe at all. He points out to Reno in his Thanksgiving memo that the evidence calls for a far broader inquiry than simply whether Clinton and Gore violated a century-old statute when they made fundraising phone calls from the White House. He lays out his complete lack of confidence in the specific individuals at the Department of Justice with whom Reno has entrusted the investigation. Perhaps most important of all, he worries about mounting evidence of a Communist Chinese conspiracy to influence U.S. elections, dating back all the way to the first Clinton presidential campaign.

What Freeh does not do is point a finger at the President, and this should tell us something about the White House’s response. Freeh simply believes that if the air is to be cleared, an independent counsel must take over from the impossibly politicized hacks at Justice. In yet another irony, this conforms precisely to Janet Reno’s position prior to this scandal. In her confirmation hearings, Reno stated, “The reason that I support the concept of an independent counsel with statutory independence is that there is an inherent conflict whenever senior Executive Branch officials are to be investigated by the Department and its appointed head, the Attorney General. The Attorney General serves at the pleasure of the President.” This is Freeh’s point exactly.

The Administration now wants Louis Freeh’s resignation on a platter, much too late and for the wrong issue, but Freeh is hardly alone. The only living Democratic ex-President, Jimmy Carter, called for an independent counsel in September, and Bob Woodward, the man who broke the Watergate story, told NBC’s Meet The Press in July that, “I mean, you never thought that would happen, that I would give the Nixon White House credit for having a comparatively clean operation.” Everyone but Janet Reno can see the meaning of a relentless barrage of fundraising violations, revealed almost every single day for more than a year.

What is certain is that Freeh’s action changes everything. No longer able to hide behind the fig-leaf of Gore’s “controlling legal authority,” the administration is now shown to be wearing the emperor’s new clothes. If Clinton has any sense, he’ll call for an independent counsel himself, before the scandal swirls out of control. Anyone who thinks this is going away is just kidding himself.