Attorney General Janet Reno's decision not to appoint an independent counsel to look into Vice President Gore's fund-raising is disappointing. But she still has an opportunity to do the right thing.
The issue is whether the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign violated federal election law. Ms. Reno found three possible triggers for the independent-counsel statute:
* Did Mr. Gore know that fund-raising calls he made from his office were for "hard money" advocating election of specific candidates - and therefore illegal - and did he mislead the FBI when he said he didn't know?
* Did former White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes lie to a Senate panel looking into a campaign-money swap with the Teamsters?
* Did President Clinton violate the law by his role in shaping "issue ads" that the Federal Election Commission says were really Clinton-Gore campaign ads, thus breaking campaign-spending limits?
Earlier in the fall the attorney-general began 90-day inquiries into each. The waiting period on the Gore matter expired on Tuesday; that on Mr. Ickes expires next Monday, and that on Mr. Clinton Dec. 7.
All three matters deserve inquiry. Reno, however, told a supervisory court Tuesday that "there are no reasonable grounds to believe that further investigation is warranted" into the vice president's actions. The decision gets Gore over an important hurdle as he gears up for his own presidential race in 2000.
But a probe is still warranted into both Ickes and the issue ads. As we've said here before, the attorney general should also ask an independent counsel to investigate the whole sordid question of solicitation and acceptance of illegal foreign contributions by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton-Gore campaign. Such an investigation is long overdue.