- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2000


For two and a half years, Attorney General Janet Reno has obstinately refused to disclose several internal Justice Department documents and memorandums relating to the department's investigation of campaign-finance abuses during the 1996 presidential election. For years, Justice has argued that publicly disclosing the memos would provide defendants with a road map of the task force's investigation. On Wednesday, the House Government Reform Committee publicly released numerous internal documents, including memos written by former task force chief Charles LaBella and FBI Director Louis Freeh strongly arguing that the law compelled Miss Reno to seek the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, among others.
It immediately became clear why Miss Reno has refused to disclose these documents. Declaring that the documents "expose the bankruptcy of this investigation," Rep. Dan Burton, the committee chairman, conveyed the exasperation that Messrs. Freeh and LaBella have felt for years, noting, "If this is a road map, it's a road map of a car going around in circles."
The first of the controversial documents was a Nov. 24, 1997, memo written by Mr. Freeh to Miss Reno, who had to decide within the next 10 days whether Mr. Gore's federally regulated hard-money fund-raising solicitations from the White House should be investigated by an independent counsel. The previous March, Miss Reno absolved Mr. Gore of any guilt on the basis of Mr. Gore's assertion that only unregulated soft money had been raised.
In September 1997, however, newspaper reports disclosed that Mr. Gore had in fact raised substantial sums of hard money for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) from his White House office. Mr. Gore subsequently claimed he did not know hard money was being raised. In his Nov. 24, 1997, memo, Mr. Freeh argued: "In the face of compelling evidence that the vice president was a very active, sophisticated fund-raiser who knew exactly what he was doing, his own exculpatory statements must not be given undue weight." Indeed, Mr. Freeh warned Miss Reno that the Justice Department was ignoring "reliable evidence" that "contradicted" Mr. Gore's statements. Miss Reno ignored Mr. Freeh's recommendation to seek an independent counsel.
In July 1998, Mr. LaBella, who had been selected by Miss Reno in 1997 to head the task force after it had become mired in chaos, sent his 94-page memo to Miss Reno arguing that the law compelled her to seek an independent counsel to investigate Mr. Gore, the president, the first lady and Deputy White House Chief of Staff Harold Ickes, whom Mr. LaBella described as a "Svengali, assuming power with the imprimatur of the president to authorize DNC and Clinton/Gore '96 expenditures." Noting that Mr. Gore had received a series of memos from Mr. Ickes and attended several meetings, all of which discussed the status of the DNC's hard-money accounts, Mr. LaBella wrote, "Curiously, though renowned as a policy wonk, the vice president claims he did not read the memos and cannot recall the meetings." Accusing the Justice Department of "gamesmanship" and "contortions" to avoid seeking the appointment of an independent counsel, Mr. LaBella described his Justice Department superiors as "intellectually dishonest." Miss Reno ignored the advice of her own hand-picked task force chief.
The following month, however, news reports revealed that a potentially incriminating Democratic fund-raising memo had surfaced. The memo, which served as the talking points for a Nov. 21, 1995, White House fund-raising meeting attended by Mr. Gore, contained numerous hand-written notations by David Strauss, Mr. Gore's then-deputy chief of staff. Mr. Strauss's notes referred to the requirement that the DNC's media fund must finance its so-called issue ads according to a "65 percent soft/35 percent hard" split. And Mr. Strauss's notations defined soft money, in terms of contributions to political parties, as "corporate or anything over $20K from an individual." Thus, the first $20,000 that Mr. Gore raised for the DNC from individuals would be, by definition, hard money. This was important because unregulated soft money was easy to raise, but highly restricted hard money was not. The difficult part would be raising the hard money component (35 percent) of the media fund. Mr. Strauss also noted how eager Mr. Gore was to make the solicitations: "VP: 'Is it possible to do a reallocation for me to take more of the events and the calls?'" and "VP: "Count me in on the calls.'"
Several days after the memo with Mr. Strauss' notations surfaced, Miss Reno initiated another 90-day preliminary inquiry to determine whether an independent counsel should be appointed to investigate Mr. Gore for perjury, among other things. Miss Reno received a memo from the FBI about a week before her decision was due. According to recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on administration, in a Nov. 20, 1998, memo to James Robinson, the assistant attorney general for the criminal division, FBI General Counsel Larry Parkinson wrote, "Is there sufficient evidence as a matter of law to prove that Vice President Al Gore made a false statement when he told the investigators on Nov. 11, 1997, that he believed the media fund [used to finance DNC issue ads] was composed solely of soft money? We believe the answer to that, this first question, is clearly yes." Responding to questions by Sen. Arlen Specter, Mr. Parkinson referred to 13 memos Mr. Ickes had written to Mr. Gore that were "indications of discussions between the time period of August 1995 and July 1996 that referred to a hard-money component of the media fund, which was the central issue in the preliminary inquiry." The FBI did not believe Mr. Gore's claims that he never read Mr. Ickes' memos.
Notwithstanding Mr. Strauss's contemporaneous notes and corroboration by four participants, including then-White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, all of whom recalled Mr. Gore's attendance at the Nov. 21, 1995, meeting and a discussion of the hard-money component in the media fund, Mr. Gore contemptuously told the FBI that he had consumed an excessive amount of iced tea and might have been in the restroom when meeting participants discussed hard money. But the FBI found that Mr. Gore attended a total of at least three meetings and was an active participant at each one. According to the FBI's interview with Mr. Panetta, the "hard/soft money breakdown of the media fund [was] discussed at all three meetings; there was always discussion [and] an examination of the overall DNC budget and, at a minimum, a reference to the hard/soft breakdown of the media fund."
Mr. Parkinson's Nov. 20, 1998, memo exhaustively chronicled the evidence detailing why the FBI clearly believed Mr. Gore had made "a false statement" worthy of investigation by an independent counsel. Also in November, a Justice attorney, whose name was redacted, wrote in a memo that "the evidence we now have … supports an argument that the vice president had to have known that hard money was a component of the media fund" [italics in the original]. Two months before, moreover, in a September memo, Robert Litt, a high-level political appointee in the department's criminal division, noted, "It is not uncommon for us to bring a perjury case where the defendant's statements are contradicted by documents that were sent to him, or statements at a meeting he attended, and for the defendant to claim that he did not read the document or pay attention during the meeting." Nevertheless, four days after receiving Mr. Parkinson's memo, Miss Reno wrote a memo to a federal judicial panel in which she reported that "the evidence fails to provide any reasonable basis for a conclusion that the vice president may have lied."
Thanks to Miss Reno's judgment, a very grateful, if undeserving, Mr. Gore soon embarked upon his campaign without the worry of being investigated for perjury. It seems he hasn't learned to tell the truth since.

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