Wednesday, April 12, 2000

Al Gore likes to convey a tough-guy, lay-it-all-on-the-table image when he’s not rationalizing his wrongdoing by saying there was “no controlling legal authority.”

These days, however, Mr. Gore is sprinting from cameras and microphones. Indeed, it has been more than 50 days since Mr. Gore, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has held a news conference. His last press conference was Feb. 19, nearly three weeks before Super Tuesday. “Clearly we’re moving into a different phase of the election, and we want to stay focused on getting out our message,” a Gore spokesman recently acknowledged to Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post.

While Mr. Gore has abandoned the press conference format, his aides stress that he has occasionally made himself available to individual reporters. Yes, and when the transcripts of those one-on-one encounters are published, it becomes clear why Mr. Gore avoids larger formats. Consider this exchange with the Associated Press on March 28, a few days after it was revealed that the Justice Department had begun an investigation into missing e-mails from the vice president’s office dating back to 1994. Consider the following exchange in which AP asked Mr. Gore how much he communicated by e-mail during the 1996 election cycle:

GORE: Didn’t.

AP: Just “didn’t”?

GORE: Well, first of all I don’t know. But whatever is there will be disclosed fully and completely.

AP: But how much could people expect to be there? You’re a pretty Internet-savvy guy who e-mails a lot.

GORE: Not about this. This is first of all, I just don’t know. I just don’t know.

Al Gore doesn’t know? Who believes that?

Even when Mr. Gore makes a definitive statement during a one-on-one interview, it is just as likely to be wrong. Recall the interview he gave the New York Times March 11, the day after the Los Angeles Times first reported that then-White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta told FBI agents he recalled Mr. Gore “attentively listening” and “walking through the papers” detailing the strategy to raise hard money from Mr. Gore’s White House fund-raising calls. Mr. Gore told the FBI that excessive iced-tea consumption necessitated a visit to the rest room while the discussions Mr. Panetta so vividly remembers were occurring. Citing such inconsistencies and the vice president’s overwhelming “failure of recollection,” the Justice Department’s task-force report said Mr. Gore “may have provided false testimony,” which the Los Angeles Times also reported for the first time the day before the New York Times interviewed Mr. Gore. Asked about Mr. Panetta’s testimony, Mr. Gore audaciously asserted, “That’s old news.”

Clearly, Mr. Gore is willing to say anything to anybody, as long as the cameras are not rolling. And even when they are, he still cannot seem to help himself. It was at a news conference, it’s worth recalling, that Mr. Gore famously announced his “no controlling legal authority” legal theory of absolution. Apparently he’s not going to allow the media to hold him accountable either.

That was before Mr. Panetta had fingered Mr. Gore as an eager participant in a meeting discussing matters for which there clearly was “controlling legal authority.” The real “controlling legal authority” in tough-guy Al Gore’s life is the protection racket that Miss Reno has been running on his behalf.

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