WASHINGTON — It was no routine meeting. In late 1996, four top
prosecutors convened at FBI headquarters to figure out how to investigate
perhaps the biggest presidential scandal in American history.
The meeting is now more controversial than ever, thanks to a
unreleased FBI memo and recent sworn testimony suggesting Justice Department officials felt they were under “pressure” to bury the case.
Now, in an exclusive interview with WorldNetDaily, one of the Justice officials at the meeting contends the FBI’s account of what was discussed ‘doesn’t jibe’ with what he remembers.
He questions the FBI officials’ motives, calling their testimony “gratuitous” and “sinister.” And he challenges the FBI director to tell his story under oath.
First, rewind to the last campaign.
Just weeks after the November 1996 election, Congress, along with Common Cause and other government watchdog groups clamored for a criminal probe of illegal foreign fund-raising by the Clinton-Gore camp. They demanded an independent counsel.
The Justice Department had to do something in short order. So the FBI called the high-level meeting.
A key participant was Lee Radek, chief of Justice’s public integrity section, the central authority on election crimes as well as on the independent counsel statute.
He sat in a winged-back chair across from his deputy, Joe Gangloff, who sat on a sofa with deputy FBI director William Esposito. Assistant FBI director Neil Gallagher took a seat nearby.
The meeting, held in Esposito’s office, lasted about 30 minutes. The four debated how to handle the probe of what the FBI referred to at the time as the “Democratic national campaign matter.”
At the end of the meeting, according to Esposito, Radek got up from his chair and remarked that “there’s a lot of pressure on him, and that the attorney general’s job could hang in the balance, based on the” recommendation he would make to her regarding an independent counsel. Gallagher heard Radek say the same thing.
“I’m sure you’ll do the right thing, Lee,” Esposito said.
About a half hour after the meeting, Esposito reported what he heard to FBI Director Louis Freeh, who in turn met with Reno on Dec. 6, 1996, to urge her to turn the case over to “junkyard dog” prosecutors outside of main Justice.
“Those comments (by Radek) would be enough for me to take him and the criminal division off the case completely,” Freeh told Reno. (Reno swears she doesn’t remember the meeting.)
Over the next three-and-a-half years, Radek denied requests for an outside investigation so many times that line prosecutors nicknamed him “Dr. No.”
Radek swears he never made the remark, though he can’t remember the meeting — even though President Clinton was a potential target, the FBI’s national-security division chief (Gallagher) was called in, and it was the only meeting the four officials had in Esposito’s office.
His deputy, Gangloff, recalls the meeting, but doesn’t remember his boss making the remark.
Adding to tensions between the FBI and main Justice, Gangloff in a recent interview impugned the testimony of the FBI officials and cast suspicion on their motives.
He said he thought it was “amazing” that Esposito could remember that Gangloff could overhear Radek’s remark.
“I was surprised when he put me so clearly within hearing range,” Gangloff said. “I thought that was a little bit gratuitous.”
“I was surprised by the level of detail of his recollection,” he added.
He also doubts Esposito’s story that he was so alarmed by Radek’s remark that he rushed to brief Freeh.
“The notion that he (Esposito) went running down the hall to Freeh is wrong,” Gangloff said. “I think they already had set up that he was going to give him a report.”
How does he explain Esposito reacting to Radek’s comment by reminding him to “do the right thing”?
He says prosecutors normally wrap up such meetings with that line, the prosecutor’s equivalent of “break a leg.”
“That particular phrase is one that we use all the time,” Gangloff said. “When we send a lawyer out in the field, we always say, ‘Look, I’ve got one piece of advice for you: Do the right thing.’”
Then he questioned the other FBI official’s statements.
“Gallagher’s testimony was very perplexing,” Gangloff said, adding that he seemed to “change positions.”
In his House testimony, he said he didn’t know what Radek meant by the “pressure” comment, Gangloff pointed out. But in the Senate, Gallagher read a “sinister” meaning into it. And yet “he didn’t report” it to Freeh, he added.
What’s more, Gangloff speculated that Freeh made more of Esposito’s report to him than Esposito intended.
“My own kind of gut feeling on this is that Esposito probably said something that was more along the lines of, ‘Blah-blah-blah-blah-blah, and as we were leaving, Lee said x,’” he said. “And I wouldn’t be surprised if Freeh was the one who put the two things (pressure plus Reno’s job) together.”
“I want to hear what Freeh has to say,” Gangloff said.
Freeh has turned down requests by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., to testify before his Senate subcommittee investigating Justice’s handling of the Chinagate probe.
Gangloff said that if Radek ever referred to pressure, it was in the “atmospheric” sense of working in a high-stress office, one charged with going after public corruption. It was not in the political sense, he asserts.
Asked his role in the meeting, Gangloff said it was that of “an observer.”
Did he take any notes?
“I don’t recall taking any,” he said. “I’m not really much of a note taker.”
“I made an effort, I’ll tell you, to look for notes,” he went on. “But frankly, there wouldn’t be any. The meeting would not be a note-taking meeting, because it was at a very initial stage” of the investigation.
“To me it would not have been a big deal of a meeting,” Gangloff said.
Radek also says he didn’t take any notes and didn’t keep a calendar that would have noted the meeting back then. “I don’t save my calendars,” he testified. Esposito, however, saved his.
In 1993, Gangloff was the acting chief of Justice’s public integrity section. In fact, he decided on May 14 of that year that there was sufficient basis for the FBI to begin a criminal investigation of Billy Dale and other career White House Travel Office officials.