- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2000

LOS ANGELES Just hours before Vice President Al Gore was supposed to emerge, at long last, from President Clinton's shadow, that shadow loomed ever larger Thursday with a new bombshell in the Monica Lewinsky saga.
As word spread of a new grand jury that has been impaneled to consider criminal charges against the president, Gore aides cursed their luck and desperately tried to prevent the revelation from eclipsing the vice president's long-awaited nomination acceptance speech.
But with 15,000 journalists hungry for a deviation from the tightly scripted convention, it was a lost cause. Gore supporters were reduced to questioning the timing of the revelation, rather than its substance.
There were the inevitable comparisons to the fourth and final day of the 1996 convention, when Mr. Clinton's acceptance speech was utterly overshadowed by revelations that the president's top political strategist, Dick Morris, was allowing a call girl to eavesdrop on presidential phone calls during toe-sucking sessions with Mr. Morris.
"They are very good strategists at stepping on a story," Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington state Democrat, said of Republicans. "It will have some impact I don't think lasting impact. It'll be a three-day story."
That means, at least for now, that Mr. Gore will be unable to monopolize the spotlight, despite a carefully choreographed symbolic transfer of power from Mr. Clinton to the vice president on Tuesday.
Although Mr. Clinton promised to lay low for a few days so that his understudy could have the limelight, the president went directly from the torch-passing ceremony to McDonald's for a fast-food feast that made all three major network newscasts that night.
Gore loyalists had hoped the McDonald's stunt would be the last splash by Mr. Clinton until the vice president could deliver his much-hyped speech last night.
When the Lewinsky bombshell hit yesterday, Democrats felt compelled to make an extraordinary argument that the president is no longer politically relevant.
"Clinton is history," Mr. McDermott told The Washington Times in the convention hall Thursday night. "Yet they keep bringing him up. It's like bringing up Hitler or bringing up Stalin or anybody else, for political reasons."
Regardless of whether the leak was politically motivated, the ramifications could be troublesome for the vice president as his struggling campaign enters the home stretch.
Mr. Gore and his new running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, had hoped to ride a post-convention wave of enthusiasm down the Mississippi River on a four-day riverboat cruise.
But the novelty of a nautical campaign jaunt was sure to be overshadowed by the parade of ex-prosecutors and scandal experts who were frantically recalled to the cable news shows yesterday for what looked like an extended stay.
Sen. Russell D. Feingold, who was asked by numerous reporters for his reaction to the Clinton-Lewinsky revelation, acknowledged it was a distraction from Mr. Gore's speech.
"I hope whatever the motivation is or whatever the substance is, that nobody in America focuses on that when they want to make a decision about whether Al Gore should be president," the Wisconsin Democrat told the Times. "It is completely irrelevant to the Gore-Lieberman ticket."
But the resurrected scandal is likely to compete fiercely for public attention against Mr. Gore's new strategy emphasizing policy proposals with a degree of specificity that would satisfy the most ardent policy wonk.
Gore aides who had acknowledged it was risky to pit dry initiatives against Mr. Bush's superior people skills now have an even more daunting task competing with a salacious scandal.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, said the Clinton news erupted "on the worst conceivable day." But he said it would backfire on independent counsel Robert Ray, who impaneled the grand jury.
"I don't know that it knocks Gore off message, but I think the timing is so suspect and so raw that I think everybody's going to react against it," Mr. Nadler said. "It becomes obvious that Ray's office is acting as a persecution office, as a raw political office, not as a prosecutor's office."
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy agreed.
"I'm a former prosecutor," the Vermont Democrat said. "Announcing something like this on the day of a political convention is so partisan, so absurd, that it's not a question of passing the smell test. It doesn't even pass the giggle test."
But with only 82 days left in a campaign that began more than a year ago, every news cycle is crucial for Mr. Gore, who trails Mr. Bush in polls by double-digit margins. Aides say it is imperative for the vice president to escape the taint of Mr. Clinton's continuing scandals.
Bush officials denied they had anything to do with yesterday's leak and even joined in criticizing the timing.
But some Republicans clearly relished the resurrection of the Lewinsky scandal because Mr. Bush has been able to strike a chord by promising to restore "honor and dignity" to the Oval Office.
"Gore has nothing to do with Clinton's problems," said Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat. "It'll be dismissed as a political move, so it's likely going to have no effect on anything. I hate to say this because I'm not cynical, but I'm not surprised that this happened."
Rep. David E. Bonior predicted the Lewinsky revelation actually would pay dividends for Mr. Gore.
"People are going to be just infuriated with the Republicans for dragging this up again," the Michigan Democrat said. "People are tired of this story. They want to move beyond it. They don't want their children, their families exposed to more of this.
"If Republicans think that this is the way to victory in November, they're going to have another surprise like they did in '98," warned Mr. Bonior, referring to the historically anomalous gains by Democrats in the House during that off-year election. "They should be ashamed of themselves for doing this."

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