- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2000

That deafening silence you heard last week from most of the national news media was its response to disturbing new disclosures in the sordid saga of Al Gore's campaign-finance scandal.
The latest development in the Clinton-Gore campaign's lengthening list of abuses of the nation's campaign-finance laws has triggered yet another Justice Department investigation, its fourth inquiry into Mr. Gore's unsavory fund-raising practices.
This time, investigators are looking into evidence that suggests the vice president peddled President Clinton's planned veto of a Republican-passed legal reform bill to help his party raise millions from rich trial lawyers who opposed the bill because it would have limited their ability to sue for big fees.
It is illegal under criminal law to link campaign solicitations to official government actions.
While the bill was heading to Mr. Clinton's desk, Mr. Gore traveled to Texas in November 1995 to speak behind closed doors to a small group of wealthy trial lawyers who, at the time, were leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to kill the tort reforms. When he returned from that meeting, he was asked by the Democratic National Committee to make some follow-up calls to solicit $600,000 in donations from six of these attorneys.
Mr. Gore last week denied he had made such calls. But a DNC fund-raising "call sheet" prepared for DNC Chairman Don Fowler for a phone call to one of the attorneys, Walter Umphrey of Beaumont, Texas, made it clear Mr. Gore had made follow-up calls to at least one of the lawyers for a $100,000 contribution.
"Sorry you missed the vice president. I know [you] will give $100k when the president vetoes tort reform, but we really need it now," said the Dec. 13, 1995, call sheet prepared by a DNC aide.
These attorneys responded by giving hundreds of thousands of dollars in soft-money contributions to the Clinton-Gore campaign via the DNC.
These events, revealed for the first time last week on the front pages of the New York Times and The Washington Times, have come to light at a critical time. Al Gore and George W. Bush are in a dead heat in their race for the presidency, and polls show Al Gore's character is his greatest weakness as a candidate.
With the help of a compliant news media and the even more compliant Attorney General Janet Reno, Mr. Gore has managed to throw a smoke screen over the campaign-finance scandals that have plagued his vice presidency since the 1996 election cycle.
But the latest revelations about Mr. Gore's well-timed money pitch to personal-injury lawyers serves to remind us of many things Mr. Gore hopes the voters have forgotten:
His insistence there was "no controlling legal authority" governing his campaign fund-raising activities in his White House office; his denials he knew he had attended an illegal political fund-raising event at a Buddhist temple; his sworn testimony to the FBI that he did not hear a discussion about raising hard money at a White House meeting when those in attendance testified he paid especially close attention to what was said; and his claims that critically important e-mail messages about the campaign finance scandals messages that had been subpoenaed by government investigators were lost forever.
And now, in the face of new evidence he and Mr. Clinton were using the tort-reform veto to raise big money from its most fervent opponents, Mr. Gore is claiming he made no appeals to fat-cat trial lawyers when the initial evidence is strong he did otherwise.
When the story broke, most of the major news organizations ignored it, and it was swept aside in the ensuing days. But the Justice Department's task force on the campaign-finance scandal isn't ignoring it. Chief investigator Robert Conrad, who wanted Miss Reno to call for an independent investigation into whether Mr. Gore lied to federal investigators, has ordered a full-scale inquiry into these new allegations.
Thus we have the spectacle of the Democratic nominee for president of the United States under criminal investigation once again for a scandal that will not go away.
This is without a doubt the worst White House scandal since the Watergate cover-up drove President Nixon from office and Mr. Gore has been at the center of it from the beginning.
Since the scandal broke in late 1996, 25 persons have been indicted, 19 people have been convicted, 70 witnesses have used the Fifth Amendment to refuse to answer questions, 18 witnesses have fled the country, and 23 foreign witnesses have refused to be questioned about it.
Mr. Gore's longtime friend and fund-raiser Maria Hsia was convicted on five felony counts for illegal fund raising, including funds she helped the vice president raise at the Hsi Lai Buddhist temple for the Clinton-Gore campaign.
Now we have written evidence that Mr. Gore was prevailed upon by the DNC to ask for big money from people who had a vested interest in a bill that Mr. Clinton was about to veto. Mr. Fowler's memo suggests Mr. Gore made the call.
But whom else did he call? And was there talk of the veto when he talked to these Texas lawyers and asked for huge amounts of campaign money? That kind of activity is forbidden by a controlling legal authority. In other words, it is against the law.
But the news media have no interest in pursuing this latest scandal. They are ignoring it, as they ignored all the abuses Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore were perpetrating throughout the 1996 presidential campaign.
Only one person can make this an issue in this campaign. And that person is George W. Bush.Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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