- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2000

A House committee yesterday subpoenaed the Justice Department for transcripts of interviews last week of President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore by the department's campaign finance task force concerning fund-raising abuses during the 1996 elections.

"Unless the Justice Department is actively investigating President Clinton or Vice President Gore, there appears to be no legitimate reason to withhold this information from Congress and the American people," said Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform.

"We want to see these new interview summaries to help us understand why it took three years for the Justice Department to do its job," he said.

On Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Robert Raben declined a request by the committee to turn over the documents, saying disclosing the interviews "would hurt" the investigation and "seriously interfere with the efforts of career prosecutors and career FBI agents to enforce federal law."

Mr. Raben said in a letter the department could not "accommodate" the request.

Last month, the panel subpoenaed the department for memos by FBI Director Louis J. Freeh and task force chief Charles G. LaBella concerning the probe, but has not yet received the documents.

The memos called for an independent counsel to probe suspected fund-raising abuses by White House officials, including Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore.

Mr. Burton said the Justice Department was "embarrassed" in December when the committee heard during hearings that in two interviews of Mr. Clinton, prosecutors did not ask a single question about Democratic fund-raisers John Huang and Charles Yah Lin Trie. Both have pleaded guilty in the task force probe.

Documents released at the hearing also showed that during three interviews of Mr. Gore, the Justice Department did not ask him about a 1996 fund-raiser he attended at a Buddhist temple in California.

Mr. Clinton was interviewed under oath for four hours on Friday at his private White House residence, while Mr. Gore was questioned under oath April 18, also for four hours, at the vice president's residence. The interviews were conducted by four FBI agents assigned to the task force and task force chief Robert Conrad.

The White House said in a statement that Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore "cooperated fully with the task force and voluntarily agreed to be interviewed," although it offered no further comment on what questions were asked or what task force investigators wanted to know.

The task force was formed in 1997 to investigate accusations that illegal foreign and domestic donations were made during the 1996 presidential campaign. It also is probing concerns the White House hid e-mail messages subpoenaed by a federal grand jury including those sent to Mr. Gore before 1997, when he and other top administration and Democratic Party figures were the focus of investigations by the task force.

In the e-mail probe, according to documents filed in federal court, the task force wants to know whether subpoenas issued for the e-mail messages were "fully complied with" and if Northrop Grumman Corp. employees working on the White House computer system were "threatened with retaliation" to keep the messages from being turned over.

Investigators have questioned several Clinton-Gore donors, including organizers of temple fund-raiser in Hacienda Heights, Calif. Mr. Gore has offered several explanations about the event and why he was present, including a claim he later changed saying he did not know it was a fund-raiser.

In 1998, FBI agents focused on contradictions between the vice president's public denials involving his campaign fund-raising efforts and handwritten notes on a White House memo discovered by Justice Department investigators.

The notes show Mr. Gore was present at a White House meeting when campaign officials discussed how soft money would be diverted to the Clinton-Gore campaign.

The notes by David Strauss, Mr. Gore's former deputy chief of staff, described a 65 percent to 35 percent split of soft and hard money for the Democratic National Committee. "Soft money" donations to parties for issue ads and party-building activities are unlimited. Their "hard" use to help elect a specific candidate is illegal.

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