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Specter puts Reno, Freeh on notice

Sen. Arlen Specter, angered by a late disclosure in the fundraising scandal, warns of sanctions.

Frustrated by the belated disclosure of key memos in a fundraising scandal, a key senator warned Friday he may seek sanctions against Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh if more surprises surface.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., reacted angrily to the FBI's belated disclosure this week that Freeh wrote a memo in late 1996 suggesting a prosecutor was under pressure to drop the fundraising case to save Reno's job.

Specter, often an ally of Freeh, said the FBI director and Reno should have disclosed the memo long ago but produced it only after being subpoenaed by a Senate subcommittee.

"He didn't produce it until he got a subpoena. . . . I think they're afraid that if they don't come across with the documents, they may be liable for obstruction of justice," Specter said.

"I'm very dissatisfied with the attorney general's performance and said so many times, and I think the director has an explanation to make as to why he did not inform the public of the contents of his memo," Specter said.

Specter's Senate subcommittee is investigating the Justice Department's handling of several sensitive cases, including fundraising and China espionage.

Both he and House Government Reform Committee chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., are planning hearings next week to review Freeh's memo. Burton said Friday he was less concerned about the FBI's belated release of the memo and would focus instead on why Reno discarded Freeh's urging to step aside.

Even before the Freeh memo suddenly appeared Wednesday night, Specter said he was considering asking his colleagues to find the Justice Department in contempt of Congress for slow and incomplete production of documents in the fundraising case.

He said he may still proceed with the sanctions.

"If we find that there are documents which they have not produced, we will push for sanctions. In the face of their late production, we just might consider sanctions anyhow," he said.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that Freeh wrote a memo on Dec. 9, 1996, disclosing that he asked Reno and Justice Department public integrity section chief Lee Radek to step aside from the fundraising inquiry because of purported comments made by Radek.

Freeh quoted Radek third-hand as saying there was "a lot of "pressure' on him and PIS regarding this case because the attorney general's job might hang in the balance." He also urged in the memo that a "junkyard dog" _ his term for an aggressive prosecutor _ be named to take over the case.

Reno said Friday she never bowed to political pressure. "I call it like I see it, regardless of the consequences. I've got a month-to-month lease on my apartment, and I've been prepared to go home from the beginning," she said.

Reno added she did not recall Freeh briefing her on Radek's purported remarks or "talking about pressure because of the job."

"I do have a recollection of him (Freeh) saying that we should get a junkyard dog to prosecute the case, but I think that was said on several occasions," Reno said.

Radek, likewise, said he doesn't recall making such comments and wouldn't have because there was "no basis in fact."

Burton scoffed at their explanations.

"There is an epidemic of memory loss in that administration," he said. "Nobody who has testified before my committee from the president's chief counsel on down to the attorney general can remember anything."

Radek, former FBI Deputy Director Bill Esposito and FBI General Counsel Larry Parkinson have been asked to appear at a hearing next week before Specter's subcommittee.

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