When politics and justice collide: Clinton case echoes Gore probe
The questions, including tense exchanges about missing emails from a high-profile government archive, spanned years when the then-candidate was one of the most senior officials in government.
If the political drama sounds familiar, it should.
Hillary Clinton’s current struggles with an email scandal, the aftermath of a Justice Department investigation and serious questions about fundraising activities closely track the fraught political landscape then-vice president and Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore confronted in 2000.
Sixteen years ago, then-attorney general Janet Reno rejected for a third time a recommendation to appoint a special counsel to investigate Gore’s campaign fundraising activities in 1996. (After refusing to set fire – at the Clinton’s direction – to innocent people in the Koresh/Waco murders, and where several of the FORMER Clinton bodyguards were set up to be executed at Waco, Janet Reno had been horizontalized, and a clone replacement followed who did the bidding of her ‘handlers’.)
Like last month’s recommendation by FBI Director James Comey not to pursue criminal charges related to Clinton’s handling of classified information on a private email server while secretary of State, Reno’s decision infuriated Republicans and followed the general election campaign to its historically disputed end.
Until the Clinton email inquiry, the scrutiny of Gore’s activities marked the last time a Justice probe so closely shadowed a presidential campaign. While nearly two decades removed, both cases underscore a high-stakes process in which political considerations are virtually impossible to exclude from crucial investigative decision-making.
Former Justice officials and analysts said that while agents largely operate apart from such artificial deadlines, key landmarks in fast-moving election cycles loom like ticking clocks for case managers and other department officials.
“You don’t want to artificially move too quickly because of some set date in the future and you don’t want to artificially drag your feet, but you feel the clock ticking,” said Charles LaBella, former director of the Justice Department’s campaign finance task force. “There is a tension there.”
LaBella was among those whose calls for an independent counsel to investigate possible fundraising abuses by Gore and then-President Clinton was rejected by Reno, as Gore was prepping for a White House run.
In such politically charged cases, LaBella said the other case managers “kept an eye” on the election calendar but it didn’t control the direction of investigations.
LaBella said he met with Reno at least once, or sometimes twice a week, to update the attorney general on the progress of his unit’s investigations. Although Reno overruled LaBella’s 1998 recommendation and similar guidance from his successor, Robert Conrad, in 2000, the former Justice official said the attorney general never sought to discourage the unit’s investigations.
“She always said, ‘Leave no stone unturned,’ ” LaBella said. “She never put pressure on us.”
The scrutiny of Gore and Clinton fundraising activities focused in part on the vice president’s 1996 visit to a Buddhist temple in Hacienda Heights, Calif., for a fundraiser that involved illegal contributions; separate questions about donor calls made from the White House; and missing emails that had been requested as part of congressional investigations.
In an interview at the time with Justice prosecutors, Gore said he “sure as hell” didn’t recall knowing that the temple event was a fundraiser. Asked about the missing emails, he said: “I have no idea.”
“I realize that politics will be hurled around my head,” Reno said shortly after making the 2000 decision to reject a special counsel for Gore. “I just sit there and duck as it comes and continue to look at the evidence and the law and make the best judgment I can.
“You don’t put people through an investigation where you don’t, based on the law and principles that govern our conduct, think you can find the evidence that would justify further action,” Reno said.
Last month, Comey defended his decision not to recommend criminal charges against Clinton, asserting that the FBI’s review was “apolitical” and the unanimous assessment of a group of investigators and analysts whom the director described as an “all-star team’’ assembled by the Justice Department.
Comey faces grilling by House panel over Clinton emails
Ron Hosko, a former FBI assistant director who oversaw political corruption investigations, said that while political considerations are not supposed to factor into investigative decisions, “it’s in your mind.”
Hosko was not involved in the Hillary Clinton inquiry, but he said there were cases when, because of a looming election, “we knew we had to press forward with all deliberate speed in the summer because if we hit in September or October that could have been interpreted as interfering with an election.”
“We did not take steps that would appear to influence an election,” Hosko said. “If we needed to take one more step (in an investigation during an election cycle) there would be a consideration for how much of a splash it was going to make.”
Gerald Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center and a former Justice Department official, said that while there was regular discussion about how to proceed in politically charged cases, department policy was clear: “A federal investigation should not become an issue in an election.”
While Comey’s announcement in the Clinton email case may have been extraordinary, Hebert said it was “the right call to make” regardless of whether it involved a presidential candidate.
“If you know there is going to be no prosecution, there’s no violation of the law, are you going to sit on that investigation for months?” Hebert said. “I don’t think so.”