Memo notes seem at odds with Gore on fund raising Vice president, aides may have weighed using soft money in campaign

August 20, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Justice Department investigators have obtained a November 1995 White House memo with handwritten notations that appear to contradict Vice President Al Gore's account of his fund-raising phone calls during President Clinton's re-election campaign, government officials said yesterday.

The notations indicate that at a meeting Nov. 21, 1995, Gore and several campaign officials discussed how some of the large "soft money" contributions being raised by the vice president for use only for general campaign purposes by the Democratic Party would be diverted to accounts to directly finance the Clinton-Gore re-election effort, the government officials said.

The officials would not provide the notations on the memorandum, which they said had been written by an unidentified senior aide to the vice president.

The officials said that the notes were not conclusive evidence of what the vice president knew about fund-raising activities and they did not provide details of the discussion at the meeting.

Attorney General Janet Reno has said that telephone solicitations for hard money by the president or vice president were subject to federal campaign finance laws and could be illegal. In December, she absolved Gore of wrongdoing on the issue of the phone calls since there was no evidence he had raised funds for the campaign.

The issue of Gore's fund-raising telephone calls is significant because it has emerged as a focal point of debate at the Justice Department in recent weeks, after Reno decided to reconsider whether to seek the appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate fund-raising abuses during Clinton's re-election campaign, the officials said.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Gore would not comment on the issue.

At the Justice Department, the officials said Reno's advisers are divided about the significance of the notations on the Gore memo.

But the document, along with a lengthy confidential report sent to Reno in late July by the former head of her campaign finance unit, have re-energized the long-running Justice Department debate about referring the case to an independent prosecutor.

That report written by Charles La Bella urged Reno to send the case to an independent prosecutor. He based his conclusions on a review of the evidence collected during the Justice Department's criminal grand jury inquiry.

At the beginning of the month, Reno opened a formal 30-day review of Gore's phone calls, the first step toward deciding again whether to seek an independent counsel.

Under the statute, Reno has until the end of the month to extend the investigation by ordering a 90-day preliminary inquiry into the vice presidential phone calls. After that investigation, Reno must decide whether to seek an independent prosecutor.

Pub Date: 8/20/98

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