- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2000

Potentially explosive Democratic fund-raising documents from 1995 have surfaced, suggesting that there may have been illegal dealings between the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) on the one hand, and Texas trial lawyers and the plaintiffs' bar on the other. At the center of the controversy is Vice President Al Gore. Attorney General Janet Reno has already rejected three recommendations from her department's campaign-finance task force and several others from FBI Director Louis Freeh calling for the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate Mr. Gore's fund-raising activities in 1995 and 1996. Now the Justice Department's task force is reportedly investigating the new documents, which cast all-too-familiar doubts about whether Mr. Gore was abiding by controlling legal authority.
Trial lawyers were the biggest contributors to the 1992 Clinton-Gore presidential election campaign, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. So naturally, the Clinton-Gore administration and the DNC would rely heavily upon trial lawyers during their most intensive search for campaign contributions to finance the 1996 re-election campaign. Moreover, nothing scared the trial lawyers more than the passage of tort reform legislation by both bodies of Congress in 1995 by comfortable, bipartisan margins.
Who better to lead the charge for contributions from the trial lawyers than Mr. Gore? After all, his tenacious fund-raising efforts had earned him the sobriquet, "Solicitor in Chief," within the administration. The vice president's eagerness was on display Nov. 21, 1995, at one of the most important fund-raising meetings at the White House. There, participants discussed their desperate need to replenish the DNC's "Media Fund" in order to continue financing the DNC's $50 million "issue ad" campaign. "Is it possible to do a reallocation for me to take more of the events and the calls?" Mr. Gore asked. It was. "Count me in on the calls," a grateful vice president said, according to notes taken by his deputy chief of staff. At another meeting, one of the talking points prepared for Mr. Gore asserted, "[W]e can raise the money BUT ONLY IF the president and I actually do the events, the calls." (emphasis in original)
So it was hardly a surprise that it was Mr. Gore who was dispatched to host a fund-raiser among Texas trial lawyers on Nov. 28, a week after the crucial White House meeting. Two days later, as Jerry Seper of The Washington Times reported last week, the DNC prepared "call sheets" for Mr. Gore that listed six wealthy personal injury lawyers from Texas. The ever-eager Mr. Gore was asked to solicit $600,000 from this group. The call sheet for personal injury attorney Walter Umphrey instructed Mr. Gore to "ask Walter for $100K for the Media Fund," noting that he "is closely following tort reform," which was then in a House-Senate conference committee. Trial lawyers strongly opposed the legislation, which would have put some limits on punitive damages, because they had reaped billions of dollars in attorneys' fees from lawsuits against manufacturers.
Mr. Gore's current campaign staff insists that Mr. Gore made no call to Mr. Umphrey. But investigators have cautioned against taking the vice president at his word to say nothing of his staff in such matters. "[H]is own exculpatory statements should not be given undue weight," Mr. Freeh once wrote to Miss Reno. In another memo assessing Mr. Gore's truthfulness about campaign-finance matters, FBI General Counsel Larry Parkinson argued that there was "sufficient evidence as a matter of law to prove that Vice President Al Gore made a false statement."
Two weeks after Mr. Gore was to make his calls, a Dec. 13, 1995, call sheet targeting Mr. Umphrey and prepared for DNC Chairman Don Fowler indicated that Mr. Gore very well may have attempted to call Mr. Umphrey but failed to contact him. "Sorry you missed the Vice President," the call sheet stated as the reason Mr. Fowler was to give for his call. "I know [you] will give $100K whn [sic] the President vetos [sic] Tort reform, but we really need it now. Please send ASAP if possible."
It is, of course, extraordinarily improper to link specific official actions with the solicitation of campaign contributions. In many cases, it is blatantly illegal. Yet, Mr. Fowler's call sheet suggests this is precisely what the DNC intended to do. In fact, after the product-liability conference report was passed by bipartisan margins in March 1996 by the House (259-158) and the Senate (59-40), President Clinton delivered the veto in May that Mr. Fowler had promised Mr. Umphrey five months earlier.
Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who was joined by Sen. Joe Lieberman, Mr. Gore's vice presidential candidate, and 10 other Democratic senators in supporting the tort reform vetoed by the president, attributed Mr. Clinton's veto to "special interests and obvious raw political considerations." Since Mr. Clinton's May 1996 veto, five Texas trial lawyers and their firms, which had collectively given $750,000 in soft-money donations to the Democratic Party before the veto, have since contributed $4 million in soft money. The timing here hardly seems coincidental, but there's a way to find out: Miss Reno should appoint an independent counsel to find out just how much Mr. Gore's voracious fund-raising efforts had to do with Mr. Clinton's ensuing veto.

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