White House readies tapes Counsel says video, audio of Clinton show no fund-raising wrongs; Release may be tomorrow; Republicans and Reno, meanwhile, battle over independent counsel


WASHINGTON -- With the Justice Department facing another imminent deadline on the appointment of an independent counsel, the White House said yesterday that it would soon release many more video and audiotapes of President Clinton at Democratic Party events that would show no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

White House officials said that up to 100 hours of tapes, covering about 100 events, would be made public tomorrow or Wednesday and that they would contain little that was new or revealing.

"I can guarantee you that whatever there is out there will be of no surprise to you in their content if you've ever seen the president make a speech" at a Democratic event, said White House counsel Charles F. C. Ruff in an appearance on ABC's "This Week." Asked if the tapes would show anything culpable, he replied: "Absolutely not."

Another White House official, insisting on anonymity, said that Ruff had reached an agreement Friday with investigators from Congress and the Justice Department to turn over the tapes.

The videotapes include many scenes of Clinton delivering stump speeches in hotels and other places on the campaign fund-raising trail. The audiotapes capture Vice President Al Gore speaking at fund-raisers and political events, although not his appearance at a Buddhist Temple near Los Angeles last year where money was raised for the Democrats, the official said.

The official said the tapes would be made public by the White House some time after a news conference tomorrow scheduled by Clinton during his visit to South America.

Attorney General Janet Reno must decide by Wednesday whether to expand her initial review about whether an independent counsel should be appointed to investigate any telephone calls that Clinton may have made to Democratic donors.

By happenstance, on the same day as Reno's deadline, she is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on the issue of independent counsels. Justice officials are bracing for a hostile reception from Republican lawmakers.

For months, congressional Republicans have challenged the decisions by Reno to reject their recommendations for the appointment of an independent counsel to examine fund-raising practices by the Democrats, including significant and unlawful contributions from abroad and of donations that were given improperly through third parties to conceal their true source.

On Oct. 3, Reno announced that no evidence had surfaced to justify the appointment of an independent counsel to scrutinize allegations of wrongdoing involving the now-famous White House coffees, the overnight guests in the Lincoln Bedroom and the improper use of the White House as a fund-raising tool.

"She looks like a fool," House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Saturday during a breakfast in his Georgia congressional district. "I mean, let's be honest. This is a nice lady. I've given her the benefit of 700 doubts."

Appearing yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Reno defended her earlier announcement and said that she had not reached a decision about whether to expand her independent counsel review of any calls Clinton may have made to donors.

She also said that the investigation by a Justice Department task force had not been closed and would continue to examine whether such a counsel might be justified.

Responding to Gingrich's criticism, she said, "Name-calling may be an appropriate tactic in politics, but what we're trying to do is to conduct the best, most thorough investigation we possibly can, and one of the things that I can't do is tell the speaker what I'm doing in the course of the investigation."

Pub Date: 10/13/97

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