- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2000

Sen. Arlen Specter yesterday sent Vice President Al Gore a second letter demanding an apology as Gore aides maintained that the Pennsylvania Republican "employed McCarthyite tactics."

The bitter dispute coming weeks after Mr. Gore's decision to run a sunnier campaign overshadowed another day of Mr. Gore's "progress and prosperity" tour.

"Since you have not responded to my [first] letter and your surrogates are repeating their outlandish, defamatory statements, if your campaign intends to continue your character assassination of me, I think you ought to be man enough to say it yourself," Mr. Specter wrote.

Mr. Specter revealed last week that Robert J. Conrad Jr., the head of Attorney General Janet Reno's campaign finance task force, recommended she name a special counsel to investigate Mr. Gore's role in 1996 fund raising. Such a probe would encompass Mr. Gore's appearance at a Buddhist temple event that raised $65,000 in illegal contributions to the Democratic National Committee.

Miss Reno appeared Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee and defended her decision not to seek the appointment of independent counsel under an elapsed federal statute, or to name a special counsel herself as Mr. Conrad recommended.

Gore spokesman Chris Lehane reacted to the five-hour hearing by issuing a blistering statement, saying Mr. Specter "orchestrated a crude McCarthy-like effort to cover up various news reports about George W. Bush's connections to big oil by making public a confidential Justice Department matter."

After Mr. Specter faxed Mr. Gore a letter Tuesday seeking "a prompt apology," Mr. Lehane repeated the inflammatory charge in a second statement Tuesday night.

Mr. Specter "still hasn't explained why he employed McCarthyite tactics in revealing confidential Department of Justice information in order to cover up George W. Bush's ties to big oil," Mr. Lehane said.

Mr. Gore told reporters late yesterday that he stood by Mr. Lehane.

"I think Chris does a great job, and I'm going to let him speak for himself," the vice president said.

The sniping clouded Mr. Gore's message yesterday as the vice president campaigned in Ohio and proposed $48 billion in subsidies to help Americans buy electric cars and solar-powered homes.

The blistering rhetoric "doesn't make sense to me," said Jim Duffy, a Democratic political consultant based in Washington.

It is fair to "criticize the leak," Mr. Duffy said, but the Gore campaign does not help itself by comparing Mr. Specter a former prosecutor to Joseph McCarthy, whom Mr. Duffy called "a nut" and a character assassin.

In the 1950s, the Wisconsin Republican led a campaign to ferret out government employees he suspected of Communist sympathies.

Mr. Bush, campaigning Tuesday in Wayne, Mich., urged voters to reject Mr. Lehane's "mindless name calling."

On CNN Tuesday evening, Bill Press, "Crossfire" co-host and former chairman of the California Democratic Party, said Mr. Lehane "shouldn't have gone there. Not necessary."

Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, yesterday accused Republicans of "ginning up all this stuff" to hurt Mr. Gore.

"Anyone can see that this is simply an effort to hurt Al Gore in his election against George Bush," Mr. Reid said in a speech on the Senate floor.

But Jim Nicholson, chairman of the Republican National Committee, charged that Mr. Gore is going back on the attack.

"We still have 132 days to go in this campaign, and the only question left now is: Just how low will Al Gore go?"

On April 18, the Justice Department first interviewed Mr. Gore about his role in the 1996 event at the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights, Calif.

The interview came a month after Gore fund-raiser Maria Hsia was convicted on five counts for hiding thousands of dollars of illegal contributions she solicited during the fund-raiser.

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