Government Reopens Its Review Of Gore's Fund-Raising Activies


Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal

AUGUST 18, 1998

WASHINGTON-The Justice Department has reopened its review of whether Vice President Al Gore violated federal election laws by making fund-raising telephone calls from the White House, officials familiar with the matter said.

The review is part of Attorney General Janet Reno's effort to determine whether to reverse her opposition to an independent counsel to investigate fund-raising abuses during the 1996 campaign. Officials said several witnesses who had been questioned about the phone calls in, the past have been re-interviewed in recent days. Ms. Reno late last year decided against calling for an independent counsel to investigate whether the phone calls violated a rarely prosecuted law against soliciting certain campaign donations while on federal property.

Mr. Gore's phone calls were one of several issues raised by the former head of the department's campaign-finance task force, Charles LaBella, in a confidential report urging the appointment of the independent counsel. The report also argues that an independent counsel should investigate the fund-raising activities of former senior White House aide and presidential confidant Harold Ickes, who helped run the Clinton-Gore re-election effort.

Some Justice Department officials who previously had opposed the appointment of an independent counsel appear to be leaning toward doing so to investigate Mr. Ickes. The most serious question concerns whether Mr. Ickes committed perjury in testifying to Senate investigators last year about administration efforts to help the Teamster while soliciting significant donations from the union.

Mr. Gore's office didn't have any immediate comment yesterday. The vice president previously denied any wrongdoing. Mr. Ickes yesterday also denied any wrongdoing.

The review of Mr. Gore's fund-raising activities apparently was prompted by new information about whether he was aware that he was as raising "hard money." Those are donations that are subject to federal limits and are covered by the antisolicitation law, as opposed to "soft money," which supposedly isn't used to influence federal elections and isn't covered by the law .

In rejecting calls for a special prosecutor last year, Ms. Reno said her investigators had determined that "the vice president solicited only soft money in these calls, not hard money," noting that no donor said otherwise, and follow-up instructions had the donors direct the money to soft-money accounts. Also. the size of the donations exceeded hard-money limits. However. some of the money Mr. Gore raised in 45 calls from his office in the White House complex was later deposited into hard-money accounts. But, Ms. Reno said last year, "investigators found no evidence that the vice president was aware of this practice."

Congressional investigators have long questioned that conclusion because memos dealing with fund-raising efforts at the time repeatedly emphasized the need for hard money.

It is far from clear, however, that Ms. Reno will have an independent counsel investigate Mr. Gore's phone calls. In opting against an independent counsel last year, Ms. Reno indicated she would have done the same thing even if the vice president knew he was raising hard money. The independent counsel statute bars her from seeking a special prosecutor to investigate violations the department wouldn't normally prosecute.

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