This Week

"This Week" Continued...

Issue: "Pensacola," Dec. 20, 1997

Green compromise

Environmental delegates from 150 nations meeting in Kyoto, Japan, signed onto a historic-and controversial-pact after working through the night last Wednesday. Designed to reverse the purported global warming trend, the agreement ended 11 days of often bitter debate. President Clinton had earlier vowed to order American companies to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases" to their 1990 levels, but European delegates pushed for cuts of 15 percent below those levels. After a one-day appearance by Vice President Gore, U.S. delegates turned more aggressive, eventually agreeing to meet the Europeans halfway: 7 percent reductions from a 1990 baseline. "Developing" countries such as China and India were not held to any binding emissions agreements, though they burn huge quantities of fossil fuels without the "scrubbing" technologies prevalent in the West. The Energy Department has estimated that both industry and consumers will have to reduce energy usage by as much as one-third in order to meet the emissions targets by 2012. President Clinton has promised $1 billion annually for new technology that he says will make those cuts painless, but Republican critics predict nothing but a punitive tax will beat energy-users into submission. They also warn of huge job losses as American companies relocate operations to developing countries where they can escape the energy caps. Two-thirds of the Senate must ratify the Kyoto treaty before it can take effect, something most observers agree is unlikely.

Land of the Freeh

Washington's most poorly kept secret is that FBI director Louis Freeh opposed Janet Reno's decision not to seek an independent counsel in connection with the president's and vice president's fundraising activities. Mr. Freeh acknowledged that opposition before the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, in a joint appearance with Ms. Reno in which the two pledged their mutual respect. The attorney general described her relationship with the FBI director as "strong and very amicable." Mr. Freeh said there was no "professional rift" over the independent counsel decision: "That two lawyers disagree should not be surprising." The battle last week was over congressional pursuit of inside details of that not-so-secret secret. Before the Reno-Freeh hearing, the House panel subpoenaed a Nov. 25 memorandum by the FBI director outlining his arguments in favor of an independent counsel. The two rebuffed the subpoena, arguing that to turn it over would jeopardize the Justice Department investigation. The next day, Mr. Freeh appeared before the committee alone. But he brought word from Ms. Reno "that her lawyers would be pleased" to discuss the release of the memo. In his testimony, Mr. Freeh insisted, despite Ms. Reno's decision earlier in the month, "no area of this investigation is closed." The FBI director said that although his gumshoes are not "being impeded," he is frustrated at the slow pace of interviews and fulfillment of document requests from the White House. "I'm not confident we have all the documents yet." Earlier in the week, White House officials illustrated Mr. Freeh's point. They released the 1996 notes-long under subpoena-of a White House aide referring to "the 'money' coffees." According to The New York Times, aide Janis Kearney's notes "recorded discussions to the effect that the election would be over before the Federal Election Commission could look into foreign contributions." Ms. Kearney quoted Leon Panetta, White House chief of staff at the time, as chuckling about Clinton-Gore fundraising plans and noting, "This will certainly help move campaign reform forward." The Times reported that the attorney general reviewed the notes before deciding not to appoint an independent counsel. An editorial in the paper criticized Ms. Reno's "specious" congressional testimony last week and said that had the attorney general been "a more curious prosecutor," she might have regarded references to "money" coffees and the "intentional skirting" of laws regulating campaign fundraising "as fitting into a chain of evidence."

The Supremes

In 1989, federal government officials accepted a plea agreement from three Oklahoma bankers charged in connection with two bank failures; the men paid more than $44,000 in fines and agreed to seek federal authorization before engaging in any future banking activities. Three years later, the three found themselves charged with conspiracy, misusing bank funds, and making false entries-all based on the same conduct that led to the first charge and fine. Is that double jeopardy? The Supreme Court last week, unanimously, said no. Separately, five justices signed an opinion further narrowing the constitutional protection against double jeopardy. Chief Justice William Rehnquist-joined by Justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas-said that "only the clearest proof" will require courts to view punitive civil fines as criminal punishment that counts as double jeopardy if accompanied by other criminal charges. Meanwhile, the unanimous court expanded the rights of citizens falsely accused of crimes, rejecting a prosecutor's claim of absolute immunity from lawsuits arising from official actions. In the case from Washington state, a man jailed briefly under suspicion of burglary sued a prosecutor he said filed a false report with a court seeking an arrest warrant. He was cleared of charges the day after his night in jail.


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