By STEPHEN LABATON
May 12, 1998
-- In becoming the fifth member of President Clinton's Cabinet
to be examined by an independent counsel, Labor Secretary Alexis
M. Herman will now face months of investigation and big legal
What distinguishes Ms. Herman's case from
most of the others, however, is that Attorney General Janet Reno
found "no evidence clearly demonstrating" her involvement
in a crime. In this instance, a businessman has accused Ms. Herman
of an influence-peddling scheme, saying she received $4,500 and
improperly steered contributions to the Democratic Party.
Ms. Reno's decision was announced late Monday
after a long and by some accounts, painful, discussion among her
aides over the merits of another special prosecutor, a debate
that in many ways reflects the larger dialogue now raging in Washington
about the strengths and flaws of the independent counsel law.
The statute expires next year, and lawmakers on Capitol Hill say
its future is in grave jeopardy, because of the way it has been
used against both Democratic and Republican administrations in
the last decade.
The debate also seeped through Ms. Reno's
application Monday to the special court that appoints an independent
counsel. The document is replete with double and triple negatives
that reflect an attorney general wrestling to fit the facts within
The application noted repeatedly that Justice
Department investigators had found no evidence that Ms. Herman
had done anything wrong. But the attorney general still asked
for an independent counsel, citing these elements: Ms. Herman's
chief accuser was credible; witnesses gave inconsistent testimony;
and, she said, because, it was "not plausible" that
Ms. Herman had no knowledge of a possibly improper campaign contribution
solicited by a close friend.
The law sets a low threshold for the appointment
of independent counsels -- specific evidence from a credible source
of wrongdoing by a top official. Still, Justice Department officials
Monday described Ms. Reno's decision as a close call that had
divided the agency's top lawyers.
They said Ms. Reno had basically concluded
that the administration would be unable to resolve the allegations
against Ms. Herman by the businessman from Cameroon, Laurent J.
Yene, within the 150 days that the law gives the department to
conduct a preliminary investigation. If the charges remain unresolved
at the end of that period, the law requires the attorney general
to seek an independent counsel.
Some Justice Department officials had argued
that Ms. Reno should decline to seek a counsel because investigators
could not corroborate any specific evidence from a credible source
of wrongdoing by Ms. Herman, as the independent counsel law requires.
But others had maintained that a close reading
of the law required an independent counsel.
They maintained that the conflicting testimony
of some of Ms. Herman's associates, combined with the possibility
of improper campaign contributions, left little discretion to
Ms. Reno. Those arguments ultimately prevailed.
In becoming the focus of an independent counsel,
Ms. Herman joins President Clinton and three former cabinet members:
Ron Brown, Mike Espy, and Henry G. Cisneros, as well as Interior
Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Eli J. Segal, who headed the Americorps
national service program. Espy and Cisneros have since been indicted,
Brown died in a plane crash in Croatia two years ago, Segal was
never prosecuted and the investigation of Babbitt began two months
In several other instances, the attorney
general has rejected an independent counsel. She refused to appoint
counsels to investigate Hazel R. O'Leary, who was secretary of
energy, and her successor in that post, Federico F. Pena, who
also served as secretary of transportation. And she has repeatedly
rebuffed Republican requests to investigate President Clinton
and Vice President Gore for their campaign fund-raising practices.
At the same time, Ms. Reno has regularly
shown a willingness not only to seek new independent counsels,
but also to expand the jurisdiction of existing special prosecutors.
Four months ago, she recommended the broad expansion of the inquiry
of the Whitewater independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, so that
he could examine whether there was a criminal cover-up of the
relationship between President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.
May 12, 1998
WASHINGTON -- Following is an excerpt from Attorney General
Janet Reno's application to the U.S. Circuit
Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Independent Counsel
Division. The application was filed on Monday and released by
the Department of Justice.
Application to the Court Pursuant to 28 USC
592 (c) (1) for the appointment of an independent counsel.
In accordance with the Independent Counsel
Reauthorization Act of 1994 (the Act), I hereby apply for the
appointment of an independent counsel to investigate whether any
violations of Federal criminal law were committed by Secretary
of Labor Alexis M. Herman, and to determine whether prosecution
is warranted . . .
On Novs. 10, 1997, the Department of Justice
received allegations from Laurent J. Yene, a Cameroon national
residing and doing business in the United States, that Alexis
M. Herman, while a White House aide, had an agreement pursuant
to which she would receive a 10 percent share of any business
she facilitated for a company called International Investments
and Business Development , which was co-owned by Herman's close
friend Vanessa Weaver and Yene.
Additionally, Yene claimed that Herman directed
Weaver to obtain campaign contributions to the Democratic National
Committee from I.I.B.D.'s clients, at least one of whom was a
foreign national, to facilitate the favorable resolution of their
business pending before the government. Based on these allegations,
on Dec. 10, 1997, I notified this court that we had commenced
a preliminary investigation. On March 10, 1998, I sought and received
an additional statutory 60-day extension of the preliminary investigation.
During the initial inquiry and extended preliminary
investigation, we focused on developing evidence to enable us
to evaluate Yene's credibility, and on developing evidence on
the following issues: 1) whether Herman received or had an agreement
to receive money or other compensation from I.I.B.D. or its principals;
2) whether Herman took any direct or indirect actions to facilitate
I.I.B.D. business; and 3) whether Herman played any role in the
making of illegal campaign contributions to the D.N.C. in connection
with Weaver or any of her clients.
Yene was interviewed extensively about his
allegations. We also conducted an exhaustive document review and
more than 100 interviews, including interviews of Secretary Herman,
who was at all times fully cooperative with this investigation.
The document review included a financial analysis of numerous
bank accounts, and this aspect of our investigation uncovered
financial transactions potentially corroborative of Yene's allegations,
which require further investigation.
In the course of this investigation, we have
spent significant time exploring the issue of Yene's credibility.
While I cannot conclusively determine at this time that Yene's
allegations are credible, much of the detail of the story he has
told has been corroborated, though none of it clearly inculpates
Additional information developed in the course
of the investigation, coupled with inconsistent and evolving explanations
by other critical witnesses, leads me to conclude that further
investigation of this matter is warranted.
Although our investigation has developed no evidence clearly demonstrating Secretary Herman's involvement in these matters, and substantial evidence suggesting that she may not have been involved, a great deal of Yene's story has been corroborated; we thus are unable to conclude that he is not credible. This, coupled with the strictures and limited investigative tools available under the Act, have led me to conclude that there are reasonable grounds to believe that further investigation is warranted, in order to determine whether Secretary Herman violated any Federal criminal
law other than a Class B or C misdemeanor
or any infraction. I thereby apply to this court for the appointment
of an independent counsel to conduct that investigation.