The FBI's 'Major Investigative Effort'

So transfixed are congressional Republicans on the independent counsel investigation of foreign campaign contributions that isn't happening that they are missing what is happening - an intensive and expanding FBI investigation, being directly supervised by director Louis Freeh, who has already submitted significant information to a grand jury.

On NBC's Meet the Press, Mr. Freeh said he now has 38 agents and dozens of support staff working on what he calls "a major investigative effort." This is clearly a subject of tension between the FBI and the White House. President Clinton has displayed irritation that sensitive information was withheld from him - including some information that has been given to congressional intelligence committees.

The president says he needs the information because of his national security responsibilities. The FBI indicates that it is precisely national security concerns that may dictate withholding some information.

Freeh says his investigation is divided into two general categories. One is potential criminal violations. That would apply to a foreign entity contributing to an American campaign, but also to any American campaign or government official encouraging or knowingly accepting a foreign contribution.

The other category is national security, which would include any dissemination of classified information to a foreign power. John Huang's contacts with the Chinese Embassy after receiving classified briefings and reviewing classified documents are being investigated in that connection.

Freeh shows little patience with Mr. Clinton's effort to discount foreign activities as no more than lobbying of the kind that Greece and Israel carry on. On Meet the Press, Freeh said what he is looking into would rise "above routine legitimate lobbying efforts."

According to The Washington Post, the FBI director suggested to Attorney General Janet Reno the naming of an independent counsel, but he apparently did not press the matter when, on the advice of her Justice Department counselors, she decided against it - at least for now.

Freeh appears satisfied - at least for now - that the FBI can keep the necessary distance from the White House while it goes on with its investigation.

*Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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