- The Washington Times - Friday, July 21, 2000

A top Justice Department official Thursday confirmed that Attorney General Janet Reno is considering a special counsel to investigate Vice President Al Gore's 1996 campaign fund-raising activities, but refused to give a House committee any details on the pending decision.
Assistant Attorney General James K. Robinson also declined during a rancorous, five-hour hearing before the House Government Reform Committee to say whether the department's campaign finance task force is investigating comments made by Mr. Gore during a 1995 White House coffee that purportedly link him to illegal 1996 donations by an Indonesian businessman.
Mr. Robinson, who heads the department's criminal division, told the panel despite repeated and often hostile questioning by committee Republicans it would be "inconsistent with my ethical and professional responsibilities to comment publicly" about any ongoing probe.
"It is essential to the fairness and integrity of our criminal justice system that criminal investigations and prosecutions be handled the right way," he said, adding that Miss Reno is "presently considering a recommendation that a special counsel be appointed" to probe Mr. Gore's fund-raising efforts in the 1996 campaign.
Also declining to discuss the ongoing probe with the committee were Assistant Attorney General Robert Raben, who heads the office of legislative affairs; Robert J. Conrad Jr., head of the campaign finance task force; and Deputy Assistant Attorney General Alan Gershel, who supervises the task force effort.
The committee, headed by Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, believes the Justice Department's campaign finance task force has given "preferential treatment" to President Clinton and Mr. Gore, and questioned yesterday why a videotape documenting Mr. Gore's comments during a Dec. 15, 1995, White House coffee had not been part of the ongoing inquiry.
"I don't think the Justice Department has even looked at it," Mr. Burton said of the tape, which was played during the committee hearing. "In five interviews with the vice president, they didn't ask him a single question about it."
The videotape shows Mr. Gore greeting Arief Wiriadinata, an Indonesian gardener who illegally donated $455,000 to the Democratic Party in 1995, and records comments by the vice president to Mr. Wiriadinata concerning James T. Riady, an Indonesian businessman at the heart of the campaign-finance probe in connection with accusations that he laundered $1 million in illegal donations to the Democratic Party.
Mr. Riady, a longtime friend of Mr. Clinton, heads the Lippo group, a multibillion-dollar banking empire. Mr. Wiriadinata's father-in-law was a partner at Lippo. In 1997, the Democratic National Committee returned Mr. Wiriadinata's contributions.
Mr. Wiriadinata, who is heard on the tape saying, "James Riady sent me," is believed to be living in Indonesia and has declined to testify before Mr. Burton's committee.
On the tape, the vice president is heard saying, "We oughta, we oughta, we oughta show Mr. Riady the tapes, some of the ad tapes."
Committee Republicans have questioned why Mr. Gore would suggest showing political issue advertisements to an Indonesian billionaire who lives in Jakarta.
Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, suggested that the comment shows the vice president knew of the illegal donation and also knew of the relationship between Mr. Wiriadinata and Mr. Riady.
The White House has said it is not sure Mr. Gore mentions the Riady name on the tape, and the committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, also challenged the Republican's interpretation.
"I have listened to the tape and I'm not sure if Mr. Gore is saying James Riady or Dottie or Lottie or even John Gotti," Mr. Waxman said, adding that the Republicans were looking to hurt the vice president politically as the November elections draw near.
Mr. Gore has denied any wrongdoing and told investigators in April he had seen Mr. Riady only "twice in my life," during a trip to Malaysia, and "in Betty Currie's office preparing to go in to see the president with a couple of other people."

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