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It’s getting late in the day and the Democrats are long gone. The Republicans, too, are history. Even Jeff Sessions, Arlen Specter’s right-hand man, his Sancho to Specter’s Quixote, has left. Now it’s just Arlen. Arlen and his witness — almost alone together in the spacious Senate hearing room. Sitting squarely beneath the seal of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Specter, the senior senator from Pennsylvania, has another Justice Department victim in the hot seat. Since Specter took the reins of the Senate’s “Justice Department Task Force” last fall, the Republican has made one department official after another testify before him on Capitol Hill. He has forced attorneys from the rank-and-file of the department to rat on their bosses; threatened to subpoena Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh and hold them in contempt for not cooperating; and asked a federal judge presiding over a DOJ prosecution for a confidential report. He has demanded hundreds of thousands of documents — forcing Justice to have lawyers solely dedicated to answering his stream of requests. All of this comes, of course, with the Clinton administration in its final, exhausted days, and with every scandal and potential scandal already scrutinized, analyzed, and dissected. But that’s not stopping Specter. At times, the senator’s zeal has gotten the better of him. He has been criticized by some of his Republican colleagues on the Judiciary Committee for being too loose with the facts. They refused to put their names on a report he authored. His demands for information about ongoing prosecutions have angered Justice Department prosecutors. Senate Democrats charge that Specter is simply a partisan hatchet man serving at the behest of the Senate Republican leadership trying to dig up a little dirt on Reno and Gore during an election year. But at 70 years old, with an undeniable record of bipartisan legislation behind him, Specter doesn’t feel the need to demonstrate his Republican credentials to anyone. Politics, he insists, aren’t motivating his inquiry. “I don’t engage in partisan investigations,” Specter says in his trademark throaty growl. “When Democrats look for somebody to co-sponsor legislation, there are just a few of us they can find.” His probe has revealed flaws in DOJ policy concerning espionage prosecutions. And last month, his investigation’s discovery of a confidential memo written by FBI Director Freeh touched off a new firestorm surrounding Vice President Al Gore’s campaign finance activities. Specter, who was once Philadelphia’s district attorney, calls accusations that he is working at the command of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., “an absolute fairy tale.” STARR STRUCK A prosecutor with unchecked power. Allegations of a political agenda. It all sounds a bit familiar. But this time, the target isn’t Clinton. It’s Reno, the attorney general in the final year of her tenure. Specter sounds like a man trying to put a scare into Clinton’s cabinet — and whoever might be running the Justice Department next year. He says it’s all about making sure that the administration respects congressional power. “Our hearings are being watched very closely by the bureaucrats in this town,” he says. Some Democrats complain that Specter has cheapened the august Judiciary Committee, causing it to be mentioned in the same breath as the House’s rabid anti-Clinton gunslinger, Dan Burton. “The [committee] seems intent on following in Mr. Burton’s footsteps in so many ways,” says Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the ranking Democrat on Judiciary. “I hope that it will not follow him off the cliff.” Leahy says that Specter’s hostile approach to the Justice Department has “seriously damaged” the committee’s “long-standing working relationship” with the DOJ. “It has made us a laughingstock,” Leahy says. “Instead of picking up a telephone to ask for documents, this committee now dashes off a subpoena first.” The scene has been repeated with almost weekly regularity: Specter chairing the hearing, with fellow Republican Sessions, the Alabaman who has been the most vituperative toward the Justice Department, at his side. Rarely has more than one Democrat attended any of the hearings. Most of the rest of the 18-member Judiciary Committee have kept their distance. But the funny thing is that Arlen Specter doesn’t even chair the subcommittee that is supposed to oversee the Justice Department. That’s for Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. Nor does he chair the full Senate Judiciary Committee. That’s Sen. Orrin Hatch’s, R-Utah, job. So when Specter took on the job of trying to get under Justice’s skin, he had to come up with something else. Thus, he is officially known as the chair of the Task Force on Justice Department Oversight. It isn’t much of a task force, though. It was ostensibly created by Lott and other Senate leaders — and at Specter’s urging — to investigate DOJ decision making in three areas: the 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, the department’s handling of Chinese espionage prosecutions, and the allegations of campaign finance abuse by the Democratic National Committee in 1996. Never mind that both Waco and the campaign finance charges had been investigated thoroughly by other congressional committees, in inquiries that cost millions. And last December, FBI Director Freeh asked Specter not to conduct an inquiry into the Wen Ho Lee case while it remained active, fearing that it could aid Lee’s defense. “It seems like there has been a tremendous amount of time, attention, and energy devoted to the decisions that Janet Reno has made,” says Michael Bromwich, the former DOJ inspector general. “It makes you wonder if it is in proportion to those decisions.” But when Lott and other Senate leaders asked Specter to take on the cause, they didn’t give him a budget. A movement last fall to give Specter some money was thwarted by the Democrats. Nor did they grant him subpoena power; he has to beg permission from the full Judiciary Committee — which he usually gets in party-line votes. Specter, then, has been doing this on the cheap. His legislative director, Dobie McArthur, is the inquiry’s point man. He is aided by other Specter staffers and by a handful of aides working for the other Republicans on the committee. “This was the least expensive investigation in the history of Congress,” Specter said at a May hearing. But there has been room in the Specter office budget to send staffers to Waco and Los Angeles. Each time, though, things didn’t quite work out as planned. Specter sent two staff members to Waco last fall, where they ran afoul of the Waco special investigative task force headed by former Sen. John Danforth. Danforth fired off stern letters back to Congress. That was the end of the Waco aspect of the oversight inquiry, although 500,000 pages of documents relating to the siege have been turned over to Specter’s staff. Then Specter turned his attention to the DOJ’s espionage prosecutions of American nuclear scientists Peter Lee and Wen Ho Lee. Peter Lee was a former Department of Energy employee who was accused of passing classified submarine data to China. In 1998, Lee agreed to a plea bargain with DOJ prosecutors and ended up serving no jail time. Before Specter’s task force, the prosecutors testified that Lee wasn’t charged with a more severe federal crime because the information at issue was no longer classified. It was, by all accounts, a close judgment call. But Specter was convinced that the DOJ had erred. He subpoenaed two lower-level Justice Department lawyers in the case, Michael Liebman and Jonathan Shapiro, to testify about the internal decision making. Shapiro and Liebman contradicted each other, with Shapiro telling Specter that Lee should have been prosecuted more aggressively. The evidence also revealed shortcomings within the department concerning espionage cases. Specter’s decision to compel non-supervisory lawyers to testify was contested by Judiciary Democrats, who complained that Specter had broken with a long-standing committee practice. But Specter was backed in his effort by Hatch. “Senator Hatch has been supportive of Senator Specter during this whole thing,” says Hatch spokeswoman Jeanne Lopatto. “Without the chairman’s support, you aren’t going to get very far.” Justice Department officials were dismayed by that development, too. Specter and his staff have been known to bypass DOJ supervisors and call line prosecutors directly for the information they want. BEHIND CLOSED DOORS But Specter hasn’t settled for simply issuing subpoenas. In February, he flew to Los Angeles to meet with Judge Terry Hatter, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and the man who oversaw the Peter Lee case. Hatter calls his meeting with Specter “unusual.” “You don’t often see a U.S. senator talking to you about cases,” he says. Hatter refused to turn over to Specter a pre-sentencing report that the judge had used to determine Lee’s penalty. “We don’t release them,” Hatter says. “Certain things aren’t available for everyone, no matter who it is.” Specter and his staff have finished a draft of his investigation’s conclusions in the Peter Lee case. But the final report still hasn’t been released. That, according to sources close to the Judiciary Committee, is because of concerns of Grassley and other Republicans. Grassley’s staff has been revising the report because of fears that certain facts within it are unfair or overstated. This isn’t the first time one of Specter’s reports have been unpopular. When he released his report of the DOJ’s handling of the still-pending Wen Ho Lee prosecution in New Mexico, not a single other member of the Judiciary Committee — Republican or Democrat — would sign off on it. In a March 8 letter to Specter, Grassley complained that “your report does not reflect the full body of evidence that the Task Force has collected. Nor does it reflect a consensus of members of the Task Force.” Specter released the report under his own name, without the committee’s endorsement. DIGGING UP BONES Specter then turned his focus to the alleged campaign finance misconduct by the DNC during the 1996 elections. Initially, Specter said that he wanted to review the prosecution of Buddhist temple fund-raiser Maria Hsia. Hsia was convicted in U.S. District Court in Washington in March for violating campaign finance laws. She has not been sentenced. After her conviction, Specter asked for a briefing on the Hsia case from the Justice Department prosecutors in the case. In a May 3 letter to the DOJ, he demanded “a briefing on evidence presented to the court and … an explanation of national security information relevant to the case.” Assistant Attorney General Robert Raben, who heads the DOJ’s Office of Legislative Affairs, declined the request. “This is an ongoing criminal matter and is at an extremely sensitive phase,” Raben wrote a day later. Raben called the request “inappropriate.” Specter was similarly rebuffed in April by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Wilma Lewis, when he attempted to obtain documents related to that office’s ongoing probe of alleged technology transfers to China by two American defense contractors in 1996. “We are at an important point in our investigation,” Lewis said in an April 26 letter to Specter. “Disclosure of our evidence … would likely have an adverse impact.” Denied pursuit of those angles, Specter has instead focused on Reno’s decision not to appoint an independent counsel to examine whether Clinton or Gore violated campaign laws in 1996. Those allegations were explored in a multimillion-dollar investigation conducted by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in 1997. But Specter found some validation for his inquiry when the FBI, in response to Specter’s subpoena, produced a 1996 memo from Freeh suggesting that pressure from the White House played a role in Reno’s choice not to appoint an outside counsel. He also was able to secure the release of a memo written by former Justice Department lawyer Charles LaBella, who once headed the investigation into the 1996 campaign finance abuses. The memo written by LaBella, whom Specter once considered to lead his DOJ investigation, called for the appointment of an independent counsel. Specter repeatedly has complained that the Justice Department is withholding documents from him, and has threatened to have Reno held in contempt of Congress for failing to answer his requests. “The department is guilty of obstruction of justice,” Specter says. The main event in the drama is coming soon. Reno herself is expected to testify before Specter as soon as the end of the month. That won’t end Specter’s work though. He is vowing to soldier on through the long, hot summer.

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