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Reno Plans Not to Investigate Clinton Campaign Donations

By Roberto Suro
The Washington Post
Washington

Attorney General Janet Reno announced Monday that she has decided not to seek an independent counsel to investigate whether President Clinton misused Democratic Party funds to pay for a massive television advertising blitz during his 1996 re-election campaign.

After a 90-day preliminary investigation, Reno reported to the special court that oversees the independent counsel process that "there are no reasonable grounds to believe that further investigation is warranted."

The attorney general's action renders it unlikely that Clinton will ever face a criminal inquiry into an allegation that has dogged him since the closing days of the 1996 campaign and that was revived when Justice Department investigators subpoenaed a Federal Election Commission audit last September.

The audit, which prompted Reno's inquiry, alleged that Clinton dodged federal campaign spending limits by using Democratic Party funds to pay for an unprecedented $46 million advertising effort. The so-called issue advertisements would have been legal if they had only advocated the party's views but, the auditors said, they contained an "electioneering message" that explicitly promoted Clinton's re-election.

The FEC is still considering the audit's assessment of the ads and a recommendation that the Clinton campaign repay $7 million of the federal funds it received after agreeing to abide by spending limits. The audit found similar violations by former Sen. Robert J. Dole's 1996 presidential campaign and recommended a $17.7 million repayment, which is also under consideration by the commission.

Reno emphasized that she had drawn "no conclusions as to whether the (Democratic National Committee) media campaign complied with the election laws, or whether permitting this type of political advertising, paid for in this fashion, is good or bad policy." That, she said, "is a matter properly within the jurisdiction of the FEC and, ultimately, Congress, rather than for a grand jury."