Funds inquiry targets Clinton

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The Independent Online
The US attorney general, Janet Reno, announced yesterday that she was extending her inquiry into allegations of illegal fund-raising by President Bill Clinton during last year's election campaign. Her decision, made a day before the deadline expires, places Mr Clinton in the same position as his vice-president, Al Gore, whose party fundraising methods became the object of an extended inquiry 10 days ago.

Ms Reno's decision to ask for more time to conduct the inquiry into Mr Clinton's fund-raising appeared to conflict with a letter she sent to Republican Congressmen, explaining her decision to extend the inquiry into Mr Gore. That letter indicated no evidence had been found against Mr Clinton on many of the allegations relating to the misuse of White House facilities - coffee mornings, dinners and overnight stays in the Lincoln bedroom - to raise funds for his re-election campaign.

Only a day later, the extension of the inquiry into Mr Clinton became politically almost unavoidable when the White House suddenly turned over to the Justice Department a set of videotapes showing more than 40 White House coffee mornings.

The few clips that have been made public so far show Mr Clinton associating in characteristically familiar and relaxed manner with a number of prominent Democratic Party contributors, including at least one - John Huang - who is alleged to have Mainland Chinese connections.

The belated discovery of the tapes, which the White House attributed to "a mistake", caused a furore in the Senate committee that is investigating the issue of party funding and prompted Ms Reno to say that she was "mad" at the White House.

None of the videos so far produced show Mr Clinton actually soliciting donations although. But with another hundred or so tapes expected to be handed over late yesterday, Ms Reno could not risk being made to look foolish again.

The extension of the inquiry, while serious, is of less consequence to Mr Clinton than to Mr Gore. Mr Clinton seems well apprised of the legal position and has vigorously defended the legality of his fund-raising.