- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 15, 2000

The campaign of Texas Gov. George W. Bush accused Al Gore yesterday of hiding behind "truth-twisting evasions" in the campaign fund-raising scandal as calls mounted for him to answer charges that he gave false statements to the FBI.

While Mr. Gore was avoiding media inquiries about a Justice Department report that raised questions about his role in the 1996 fund-raising scandals, he was coming under increasing attack from Bush officials and campaign reformers about his continued silence on the report's conclusions.

"Governor Bush's biggest concern is that the vice president may have given false statements to FBI investigators," said Bush campaign spokesman Ari Fleischer in a telephone interview with The Washington Times.

"His concern is that after all we've been through the last eight years, do we really want to subject the American people to four more years of the same truth-telling evasions?" Mr. Fleischer said.

"His recent remarks about supporting campaign reform are laughable. If Al Gore is for campaign finance reform, then Bonnie and Clyde are for better bank security," he said of Mr. Gore's latest efforts to identify himself as a leader who will change the system.

In the past week, Mr. Gore has conceded that he "made mistakes" in the 1996 campaign by attending a Buddhist temple fund-raiser and by making fund-raising calls from the White House, and has called for a campaign finance reform bill and for the candidates in this year's presidential elections to forgo soft money.

But questions about his deeper involvement in the campaign finance scandal have persisted since the Justice Department conducted its own investigation and Attorney General Janet Reno turned down a call for an independent probe.

Last week, questions about Mr. Gore's role in the scandal were revived after leaked portions of a Justice Department task force report said Mr. Gore "may have provided false testimony" to FBI agents investigating whether campaign finance laws were broken by President Clinton and Mr. Gore.

The report, written by Charles G. LaBella, the department's former chief campaign finance investigator, expressed skepticism about Mr. Gore's "failure of recollection" about White House fund-raising meetings and inconsistencies in his answers.

Mr. LaBella cited a number of questionable actions and "a pattern of conduct worthy of investigation."

Several campaign reformers yesterday also questioned Mr. Gore's devotion to real reform and said he should answer the charges contained in the LaBella report.

"By any objective measurement, Al Gore still has a lot of explaining to do," said Charles Lewis who heads the Center for Public Integrity. "It smelled in 1996 and it smells today."

"He has never answered specific questions about this. He has dodged the whole issue. These questions are significant. They address his integrity and probity as a prospective president. Why he hasn't answered them makes you wonder," Mr. Lewis said.

"The whole LaBella report should be made public, and the news media should be asking him about this every day," he said. "I think Al Gore and Bill Clinton have bent the campaign finance laws as far out of shape as anybody ever has," said Ellen Miller, executive director of Public Campaign, a campaign finance reform organization based here.

"It's one thing to talk the talk and another thing to walk the walk and that remains to be seen with Al Gore," Ms. Miller said.

However, Democratic strategists said yesterday that Mr. Gore has inoculated himself by conceding mistakes and calling for reform and that in the end the issue would not hurt him politically.

"People find all this irrelevant in terms of things that affect their lives. They see it as just politics," said Terry Michael, a former Democratic National Committee press secretary.

"I can't think of a case where people have voted on the basis of campaign finance violations," said Dennis Kanin, a Democratic fund-raiser for former Sen. Bill Bradley's presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, Gore campaign officials have had little if anything to say about the LaBella report or the questions that it raises about possible campaign fund-raising violations by Mr. Gore.

"I'm not commenting on the LaBella stuff," Gore campaign spokesman Doug Hattaway said yesterday. "This issue has been examined by Republican-led congressional committees who found no wrongdoing on Al Gore's part."

But Republican pollster Frank Luntz thinks "the problem for Gore is not in the details per se, it's the hypocrisy of saying one thing and doing another that voters will not accept."

"You can't call for campaign finance reforms and be seen as a perpetrator of campaign abuses and get away with it," he said.

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