Justice Department investigation focuses on Gore's truthfulness Vice president's image could be at risk during 90-day probe

August 28, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The latest Justice Department inquiry into Al Gore's campaign fund raising strikes at a sore spot -- the vice president's candor in the face of threats to his Boy Scout image.

Attorney General Janet Reno said yesterday that the purpose of a new 90-day preliminary investigation is "to consider statements Vice President Gore made in the course of another preliminary investigation last year concerning political fund-raising calls he placed from the White House."

This review is more narrowly focused than the Justice Department's previous preliminary examination of Gore's 45 fund-raising calls from the White House, sources said.

The key question is this: Did Gore lie to federal investigators about whether he knew that a Democratic National Committee "media fund" that bankrolled a costly television advertising campaign in late 1995 and early 1996 included "soft money" for party activities as well as "hard money" to support individual candidates?

The new review aims to determine whether there are "reasonable grounds to believe that further investigation is warranted" into whether Gore purposefully misrepresented his understanding of the media fund.

If Reno determines such grounds exist, she will seek the appointment of yet another independent counsel to open a full-scale investigation.

It is a crime to lie to a federal investigator.

In contrast to the complex issues surrounding the phone calls, a politician's veracity, or lack thereof, is a more clear-cut issue. Any investigation that paints Gore as deceitful on a fund-raising question -- particularly given how central his generally solid reputation is to his standing with voters -- could wreak havoc on his anticipated 2000 presidential bid.

Gore expressed confidence yesterday that he faces no such jeopardy. At the end of a dialogue on school violence in San Francisco, he told reporters: "I will continue to fully cooperate with the Justice Department during their preliminary inquiry, and I remain confident that they will conclude that, as I know, everything that I did was legal and proper."

Some congressional Republicans, who have long demanded the appointment of an independent counsel to probe Democratic campaign abuses, said the Justice Department's review represents nothing more than further delay.

An independent investigation of fund-raising tactics for the 1996 campaign "must be complete and comprehensive, covering the president and vice president, not just bits and pieces," said Republican Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, chairman of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, which has been

NTC conducting its own probe of fund-raising.

In his White House calls, Gore solicited money from donors to sustain the DNC media campaign. He has said he believed he was raising only soft money -- which is not subject to campaign finance laws, including a ban on seeking funds from a federal building.

The DNC acknowledged last year that some of the money Gore brought in was diverted to hard-money accounts, but said this was done without the vice president's knowledge.

Reno reopened the phone call issue in light of recently discovered handwritten notations by a former Gore senior aide suggesting that the composition of the fund -- about two-thirds soft money and one-third hard money -- was discussed during a Nov. 21, 1995, meeting at the White House attended by the vice president, President Clinton and senior White House and DNC officials.

Pub Date: 8/28/98

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