WASHINGTON – Attorneys for Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., have asked the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate alleged wrongdoing stemming from Torricelli's 1996 Senate campaign.
A probe is currently underway, led by Mary Jo White, the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York. Investigators are looking at possible campaign finance violations as well as allegations that Torricelli accepted gifts such as suits, watches and cash from a New Jersey businessman in exchange for help in some business deals
But Torricelli's attorneys say the investigation of Torricelli's campaign has become increasingly politicized. They fear his treatment by the Bush administration's Justice Department will deteriorate since "criminal charges against Senator Torricelli could lead to a return of the United States Senate to Republican control."
Torricelli's attorneys are asking Attorney General John Ashcroft to appoint an independent investigator to take the probe away from the Justice Department.
Ashcroft has already recused himself from any criminal proceedings involving Torricelli, because the New Jersey senator campaigned in last year's Missouri Senate race on behalf of Ashcroft's Democratic opponent, Jean Carnahan, the wife of the late Mel Carnahan.
Justice Department officials say Torricelli's request will be handed over to Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson.
The letter from Torricelli attorney Theodore Wells, dated June 5, reads in part:
"Since the new administration took office in January, the leaks coming out of the Department have turned into a flood. To our knowledge, the Department has done nothing to prevent the leaking of information, and it has opposed Senator Torricelli's efforts to get relief from the court.
"Now, matters have escalated further. There has been rampant speculation that criminal charges against Senator Torricelli could lead to a return of the United States Senate to Republican control."
Justice Department officials cite three criteria for the appointment of a special counsel: The person making the determination, usually the attorney general, must determine that a criminal investigation of the person is warranted; that litigation procedures by the Justice Department present a conflict of interest for the department or other extraordinary circumstances; and that appointing a special counsel is in the public interest.
-- Fox News' Bryan Sierra contributed to this report