Questions Arise Over FBI Role In `Travelgate'

`TRAVELGATE," it seems, just won't go away.

The flap over the firing of the seven employees who worked in the White House travel office has now taken a new turn: The administration is being accused of improperly using the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to provide political cover for the firing.

White House officials on May 24 acknowledged taking the highly unusual step of summoning an FBI official last week and asking him to issue a news release saying criminal investigation of the seven workers was warranted. White House officials helped prepare the statement.

Attorney General Janet Reno, according to The Washington Post, was said to be angered that the FBI was brought into the case without her knowledge, in violation of an administration policy designed to shield the bureau from politics. Traditionally, the FBI does not comment on matters under investigation.

On May 24, White House spokesman George Stephanopoulos said that in this case "we wanted to make sure that the facts were clarified" on allegations of financial mismanagement by officials of the travel office.

But Senate minority leader Bob Dole (R) of Kansas said it appeared to be an abuse of prosecutorial power, and he demanded an explanation from Ms. Reno and FBI Director William Sessions. "This latest `guilt by press release' caper would make members of the old Soviet KGB swell with pride," Mr. Dole said in a Senate speech. More bad news for Clinton

As if President Clinton didn't have trouble enough, his poll ratings are plunging.

An ABC News poll of 1,005 adults May 24 showed that only 46 percent approved Clinton's handling of his job, while 48 percent disapproved. Only a month ago, the president enjoyed a 59 percent approval rating against 39 percent disapproval.

Support for the president's economic program, which includes a new energy tax, also faded. In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll taken over the weekend of 1,023 adults, some 44 percent approve of it and 45 percent disapprove, compared with 55 percent in favor and 39 percent against in late April.

Clinton has been getting lower approval ratings than any presidential predecessor at the same point in his term.

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