When Republican congressional representatives tepidly questioned Attorney General Janet Reno about why she declined to appoint an independent counsel to investigate the campaign fund-raising activities of President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, she claimed her decision was based on “the law” and “the facts.”

Oh yeah? Even a cursory examination of the report she filed on her decision shows that is not the case. What the decision was based on Reno’s own gullibility and willingness to believe any cock-and-bull story Clinton, Gore and former Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary dished out.

For instance, Reno concludes that Gore didn’t know he was raising “hard money” contributions during his phone calls from his government office. How does Reno reach this conclusion? Easy, because that’s what Al Gore told her. End of story. He gave, she said, a “reasonable explanation for his conduct.”

And that’s not what the law prescribes in such preliminary investigations. In fact, it forbids the Justice Department from making such assumptions.

Never mind the fact that a series of memos by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes had explained that “soft money” was routinely being transferred into “hard money” accounts. Reno simply said the memos weren’t clear enough.

She also suggests that Gore may just not have been aware of the law prohibiting campaign work from government offices. Not aware? Is she suggesting the vice president of the United States is a dolt? There isn’t an employee in the federal government who isn’t aware of those prohibitions.

Most surprising, however, is the double-standard Reno has used in making her decisions about independent counsel appointments. This is the attorney general who once said the law should be used whenever there is a political conflict of interest in an administration investigating itself. That’s the standard she used when she invoked the law launching independent counsel probes of Whitewater, Travelgate and Filegate.

So how does she get away with such blatantly political corruption of the law? Easy. She has nothing to fear from the only authority that could hold her accountable for her actions — the Congress.

It’s easy to understand why. First of all, check out the new documentary, “Waco: The Rules of Engagement.” It shows that Reno and others in the administration got away with, yes, I’ll say it, murder in the unwarranted, unjustified government assault on the Branch Davidian church.

Oh yeah, Congress held a few hearings on the massacre — and then let those responsible escape any accountability.

Since then, she has watched her boss, Bill Clinton, play the Congress like a violin. She has heard those in Beijing, who funneled money into the 1996 presidential campaign, claim credit for sabotaging congressional hearings into fund-raising abuses. She has watched as Republicans on both House and Senate investigative committees self-destruct because they don’t have the heart, soul and guts to do the duty only Congress is sworn to do.

It’s no wonder so many in Congress are befuddled by Reno’s decision. Most of them wanted someone else to do this dirty work. They would prefer to figure out new ways to spend your hard-earned money. The messiness of preserving the integrity of the Republic has little appeal. Who wants to be accused of being partisan — or, worse yet, be compared to a Nazi, as Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz was by Rep. Tom Lantos during recent hearings on Justice Department interference in his probe of the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Well, now it’s back in the lap of Congress. What will they do with this little problem? Let it slide? Move on to “more important” legislative matters? Or, will they exercise the only option they have left — impeachment?

Back in September, Rep. Gerald Solomon first raised this issue in a letter to Reno: “I should inform you that the mood in Congress to remove you grows daily. I beg you to avoid such a disgrace.”

How did she respond? By ignoring a subpoena for FBI Director Donald Freeh’s memo to her on the investigation into Clinton and Gore.

Outrageous? Yes, but she continues to get away with it — just as her boss skated along on the precipice of a dozen major scandals. Until Congress musters the courage to do its job, such abuses of power will only escalate.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.