Obstructive Politics

It's an election year. But that's a poor excuse for the vitriol flowing between the House leadership and the White House.

Mr. Gingrich has taken to calling the president the greatest obstructer of justice in American history. President Clinton, as exhibited in his recent press conference, uses the quieter, but scarcely less disturbing, tactic of sidestepping every question about his ethical and moral problems.

Meanwhile, important legislation - needed funding for the International Monetary Fund at a time of unusual pressure on its resources, for instance - is wilting in the political fray. Speaker Gingrich has broadly hinted that legislation won't move until the White House offers more cooperation with the ongoing investigation of Clinton-Gore 1996 fund-raising practices.

On that, the speaker has a point - or at least part of one. The investigation is a matter of national importance and should move ahead. But we're more concerned about the probe under way in the Justice Department than the bitingly partisan House probe that Mr. Gingrich had in mind. The Justice Department has announced plans to transfer its top investigator on the case to a new job - not a good sign that the work is getting the long-term, objective attention it needs.

That same investigator, Charles LaBella, is about to give Attorney General Janet Reno a full report on his work so far, which could renew pressures on her to appoint an independent counsel for the campaign-finance case. Mr. LaBella, like FBI Director Louis Freeh, is reported to have once recommended to the attorney general that an independent counsel be appointed to look into the campaign funding controversy.

Ms. Reno's assurances that the investigation can be handled in-house, within her department, instead of by an independent counsel, appear shakier than ever.

Both the IMF funding bill and the campaign-finance probe should receive the prompt action they deserve - instead of the partisan cross-fire they're getting.

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