Clinton steps up fund raising He continues to seek money, despite threat of special prosecutor

September 23, 1997|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Even as the Justice Department considers whether to seek a special prosecutor to investigate President Clinton's role in raising campaign money at the White House, Clinton is continuing -- even stepping up -- his fund-raising schedule. The president is scheduled to be the star attraction at a half-dozen political fund-raising dinners over the next month, events that the Democratic National Committee expects will raise several million dollars for the party.

Asked whether the White House might consider cutting back on Clinton's fund-raising schedule, given the questions swirling around his role in raising money, Joe Lockhart, a deputy White House spokesman, replied: "Nope. What we're doing is legal."

Clinton made the same point yesterday in responding for the first time to news that Attorney General Janet Reno had begun a preliminary inquiry into whether he solicited campaign donations by phone from his government office. The Justice Department is already investigating Vice President Al Gore on the same issue.

"I believe what the vice president did and what I did was legal, and I am absolutely certain that we believe we were acting within the letter of the law," the president said during a photo session at the United Nations.

"I am absolutely positive that we intended to be firmly within the letter of the law when we were out there campaigning and raising funds, as we should have been doing."

Clinton's statement introduced a subtle new element to the White House defense -- that of intent.

Until now, White House lawyers have said they do not believe that Clinton placed the fund-raising phone calls that his staff asked him to make.

Even if he did, they argue, the law covering such solicitations does not apply to the president or vice president.

Now, for the first time, White House lawyers are also implying that even if there was a technical violation of the law, it was inadvertent -- and thus does not merit prosecution.

Mike McCurry, the White House spokesman, also used the word "intent" in New York, where the president spoke to the United Nations.

"He believed and believes now that what he did was legal," McCurry said. "And he's positive that when he was conducting his fund-raising activity, it was certainly with the intent of following the letter of the law."

Reno has launched two separate 30-day preliminary reviews into whether Clinton or Gore violated federal law by engaging in fund-raising activities on federal property. So far, the inquiry has centered on telephone solicitations for money.

Gore has acknowledged making such calls. Clinton says he doubts he did so but cannot remember for certain. To Reno, a critical question is whether money raised from any such phone calls was later funneled by the Democratic Party into the Clinton-Gore campaign, in possible violation of federal law, and whether Clinton or Gore knew about it.

There are related matters that Republicans have insisted must be part of any Justice inquiry. They include the more than 100 presidential fund-raising "coffees" held inside the White House by Clinton, Gore and Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as the rewarding of big donors with sleep-overs in the Lincoln Bedroom, a practice initiated by Clinton himself, according to White House memos.

Those activities have been curbed, but there has been no break in employing the president as the drawing card at Democratic fund-raisers around the country. Clinton's latest schedule has him traveling to Houston on Friday night from Little Rock, Ark., for a Democratic National Committee fund-raising dinner.

The president has also agreed to speak at an Oct. 4 fund-raiser in Northern Virginia for the Democratic candidate for governor of that state, Donald S. Beyer Jr. In addition, Clinton will attend back-to-back party dinners Oct. 8 and Oct. 9 in Philadelphia and Washington.

A fifth dinner, to raise money for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is scheduled for Oct. 21 in Washington. And one to raise money for Democratic House candidates is scheduled for Oct. 31 in Miami.

In fact, the White House is considering adding more events to the president's fund-raising calendar. One White House official said the president had agreed to appear at fund-raisers for the Democratic candidates for mayor of New York City, Ruth W. Messinger, and for governor of New Jersey, James E. McGreevey.

"The Republicans are still raising money -- more than we are," said one Democratic strategist close to Clinton. "We've said it before, and I'll say it again: We're not going to unilaterally disarm."

Pub Date: 9/23/97

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