- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2000

A top Justice Department official described as a Democratic Party loyalist twice recommended in 1998 that an independent counsel be named to investigate whether Vice President Al Gore lied about his campaign-finance activities.

Robert S. Litt, who serves as the department's principal associate deputy attorney general, said in September and November 1998 memos that he was "not persuaded" that Mr. Gore had not lied to FBI agents in denying that he illegally solicited "hard money" donations for the Democratic National Committee.

"One could infer that Gore knew what he claimed he did not know; that the [DNC's] media campaign was paid for, in part, with hard money," Mr. Litt said in a Nov. 22, 1998, memo. "Gore was unquestionably present at a meeting at which it appears the hard-money component to the media campaign was discussed.

"In addition, he was sent a large number of memos which made reference to the same topic," he said.

Mr. Litt's memos came in the wake of similar calls for an outside counsel by former Justice Department campaign-finance task force chief Charles G. LaBella and FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, who said there was clear and convincing evidence an independent counsel investigation of Mr. Gore was warranted.

Known as a certified "friend of Bill" and former law partner of David E. Kendall, President Clinton's personal attorney, Mr. Litt has been at the Justice Department in Washington since 1994. Department officials said numerous analyses he has conducted on independent counsel matters have never been questioned as politically motivated.

In his memos, Mr. Litt said while there was "clearly substantial contrary evidence" that Mr. Gore broke the law, he was "not sufficiently convinced" the vice president did not lie to FBI agents when asked about telephone solicitations he made on behalf of the DNC.

"I cannot conclude that this evidence meets the clear and convincing standard necessary to conclude that Gore did not knowingly lie, nor am I sufficiently convinced that Gore's statement was true that further investigation is unreasonable," he said.

Mr. Litt suggested it was not prudent for the attorney general to accept the vice president's denials on their face and, as a result, said an investigation by an independent counsel was appropriate.

"If a defendant claims lack of knowledge or recollection, I think that we would go forward with evidence showing that he was put on notice of the facts, and leave it to him as a defense to show that he did not hear the statements or read the memos," he said.

Mr. Litt said Mr. Gore "could have concluded that evidence of his state of mind about hard money and soft money would be relevant to the department's investigation (as in fact it was) and thus determined to lie about that."

In the Sept. 16, 1998, memo, Mr. Litt said there was "specific information from a credible source" that Mr. Gore "may have lied to us" in claiming no knowledge that "soft" money donations he sought may have been routed illegally to "hard" money DNC accounts.

"The statement of a person without apparent reason to lie, corroborated by notes taken by an aide to the vice president, form a basis for concluding that the vice president did know what he claimed not to know or certainly for investigating whether he may have," he said.

Mr. Litt said notes of a November 1995 White House meeting attended by Mr. Gore showed the soft- and hard-money DNC split was discussed, despite the vice president's denials. He said it was "not uncommon" to bring perjury charges "where the defendant's statements are contradicted by documents."

In August 1998, FBI agents began to focus on Mr. Gore's public denials concerning his fund-raising efforts after discovering notes by David Strauss, Mr. Gore's former deputy chief of staff. The notes described discussions involving a 65-35 percent split of soft and hard money for the DNC.

Mr. Gore has denied wrongdoing in fund-raising calls he made from his office, citing "no controlling legal authority" showing any violation of the law. Task-force investigators said at least five of those solicited by Mr. Gore gave money that was deposited into DNC hard-money accounts.

Attorney General Janet Reno declined to seek the appointment of outside counsel, saying there was no credible evidence showing Mr. Gore knowingly violated the law.

Soft money is unlimited and goes to issues rather than candidates, who receive regulated hard-money donations. Using soft money for direct campaign activities is illegal.

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