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Reno Urged To Probe Fundraising

Attorney General Janet Reno was under fire again Sunday, with renewed calls to appoint an independent counsel to investigate fundraising in the 1996 presidential campaign.

The pressure on Reno comes from Republican critics who say Charles Labella, the head of the Justice Department's own investigation, is compiling information that will force Reno to seek an independent counsel - something she has refused to do before.

Labella has been provided new details by former Democratic fundraiser Johnny Chung. Chung was a key player in the Democratic fundraising efforts. He struck a deal with the Justice Department task force after pleading guilty in March to making illegal contributions.

Critics have long maintained that Reno has a conflict of interest investigating alleged wrongdoing in the '96 Clinton-Gore campaign, because President Clinton appointed her.

Even FBI Director Louis Freeh and many investigators on the case say it should be handed to an independent counsel.

Officials admit that Labella believed there should be an independent counsel six months ago. But today, an embarassed Justice Department said he doesn't believe it now. Reno is promising to keep an open mind.

Reno said she will listen to all her advisers, and that if sufficient evidence exists to trigger naming an independent counsel, ``I'm going to do it.''

Labella was brought on board to rescue the investigation, and now he wants to leave the post. His quick departure after just six months on the job, and his early disagreement with his boss will provide even more ammunition for those who say the Justice Department's probe into President Clinton's fundraising efforts will never be impartial.