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Reno Rejects Gore Probe, Again

On a day Vice President Al Gore was talking health care to seniors in Florida, the health of Gore's campaign got a significant booster shot from Attorney General Janet Reno, reports CBS News Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts.

Reno announced Wednesday she will not seek a a special prosecutor to investigate Gore's 1996 campaign fund-raising activities.

"I have concluded that a special counsel is not warranted," Reno said.

The recommendation stems from fund-raising irregularities during the 1996 election and whether Gore made false statements during an April interview with Justice Department investigators.

Asked about his questionable Buddhist Temple appearance, Gore said, "I sure as hell did not have any conversations with anyone saying this is a fund-raising event." Instead, he called the event "finance-related."

On the topic of fund-raising coffees, Gore first said he attended none, then later admitted he attended four and held 21 of his own. The attorney general found no evidence of criminal intent.

"The transcript neither reflects false statements nor perjury," Reno said. "Rather, the transcript reflects disagreements about labels."

What's good for Gore has become a burden for Reno as she takes the heat for refusing to appoint a special counsel for the third time.

"The inference is undeniable that she is protecting Vice President Gore," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

"I don't do things based on politics. I realize that politics will be hurled around my head. I just sit there and duck it as it comes," said Reno.

But Gore is not off the hook, Texas Gov. George W. Bush took the opportunity to again raise the question of honor and dignity in the White House, saying "The best way to put all these scandals and investigations behind us is to elect someone new."

"This is a whole opportunity for the Republicans to bring the discussions back to questions of character and judgement, where they've always had an advantage," said political analyst Stuart Rothenberg.

Despite the clean bill of health from Reno, Republicans aren't likely to let this go. They believe Gore is still vulnerable on the issue and will use it in an attempt to convince swing voters who'll decide this election to think twice about Gore.

Reno declined in 1997 and 1998 to have an independent counsel look into fund-raising telephone calls Gore made and into whether he lied when he said he thought the money raised was for general party-building rather than for the Clinton-Gore re-election.

Since 1998, the law authorizing her to have a special court select an independent counsel has expired. Now she must appoint any special counsels.

This time, campaign task-force chief Robert J. Conrad Jr. urged her to appoint a counsel to determine whether Gore lied to him in April about whether he knew the Buddhist temple event was a fund-raiser and about how many Wite House coffees he had attended.

The temple event has led to convictions of others for concealing who actually gave $60,000 contributed afterward.

Two government officials, requesting anonymity, said Conrad was the only federal prosecutor recommending outside investigation of Gore for the April remarks. But Reno went out of her way to deny that Conrad was the lone Justice Department voice advocating that.

She said two others did so but would not identify them. Officials said the recommendations supporting Conrad came from FBI Director Louis Freeh and one of his aides. Freeh has backed an outside investigation for three years.

Even as she rejected his advice, Reno praised Conrad as "an excellent prosecutor."

"There will always be disagreements among lawyers. The Supreme Court often splits 5-4," Reno said. "But ... my regard for Bob Conrad has only increased as I have dealt with him on this issue."