Inside Report: Saving Janet Reno

Posted: Oct 27, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- Efforts to launch a Pearl Harbor-style commission to investigate roots of the Sept. 11 disaster are being impeded by efforts to protect Janet Reno, who is running an uphill campaign for governor of Florida. A blue-ribbon commission, appointed by Congress and the judiciary and modeled after the inquiry into the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, would have to probe Reno's performance during eight years as attorney general. The commission's report would come six months from now, at the peak of Democrat Reno's efforts to defeat Republican Gov. Jeb Bush. Since Sept. 11, Bush has widened his lead in the polls over Reno. The proposed inquiry is encountering trouble from another source: defenders of the FBI and its former director, Louis Freeh. While Freeh often clashed with Reno (his nominal superior), he also would come under a commission's scrutiny for the nation's degree of anti-terrorism preparedness. HOME BEFORE CHRISTMAS? Leading Democratic strategists want Congress to stay in session until Christmas rather than adjourn around Thanksgiving as expected. They don't want President Bush, leading the war against terrorism, to have the national podium to himself for the last five weeks of the year. Keeping Congress in session would maintain visibility for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, the most effective Democratic spokesman to counter the newly popular Bush. Congressional Republican leaders would like to clean up legislative business by Thanksgiving, but technically stay in session the rest of the year so that lawmakers could quickly reassemble for an emergency. Normally this late in the year, members of Congress press their leaders for early adjournment. Since Sept. 11, however, they do not want to be seen by constituents as shirking their duties. SECURITY AND POLITICS Rep. Tom Davis, chief Republican strategist for keeping control of the House in the 2002 elections, has warned party leaders that their opposition to federalizing airport security could cost them dearly at the polls. Davis, chairman of the GOP's congressional campaign committee, privately told House Majority Whip Tom DeLay and other conservatives that it sounds too political to oppose 28,000 new government workers because they would join pro-Democratic federal employees' unions. Accordingly, House Republicans now argue that government-supervised private workers would be more effective in screening luggage, as they are in Israel and elsewhere. Thanks partly to Davis, Chairman Don Young of the House Transportation Committee introduced an airport security bill this past week. NO HELP FROM BUSH? Republican Mark Earley's underdog campaign for governor of Virginia has received word from Washington that he probably will not get urgently requested help from George W. Bush or Dick Cheney before the Nov. 6 election. The president and vice president have not wanted to look like partisan politicians in the wake of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The anthrax scare only confirmed that attitude. Former State Attorney General Earley has cut deeply into Democrat Mark Warner's big lead, and Virginia GOP strategists contend that help from the president could put the Republican candidate over the top. At least, they had hoped for a Bush television commercial to counter the expected torrent of late advertising paid for by multi-millionaire Warner. CALIFORNIA GOP TENSION Liberal Republican Richard Riordan, the former mayor of Los Angeles running for governor of California, has encountered buyer resistance in wooing the state's conservative Republican leaders -- especially Tom Fuentes, the Orange County chairman. During a long meeting, Riordan alerted Fuentes that his campaign would be receiving contributions from Democrats as well as Republicans. Noting that they were meeting in Fuentes' business office, Riordan then speculated whether his business also gave to both parties. "In Orange County," Fuentes replied, "we call those people whores." A footnote: Riordan is running even with Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, according to polls. But California Republicans are stunned that Riordan's campaign has taken on such high-profile Democrats as Pat Caddell, Susan Estrich and Clint Reilly, while GOP consultant Dan Schnur left.