- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2000

It seems that almost everyone, except Attorney General Janet Reno and the White House, thinks there should be an investigation into whether Al Gore lied about his role in the campaign-finance scandal.

FBI Director Louis Freeh says there is "compelling evidence" to justify the naming of an independent prosecutor, according to internal memos that were released by a House investigating committee last week.

Mr. Freeh said Miss Reno faced an "irrevocable political conflict of interest" when she blocked a deeper, independent investigation into the White House fund-raising scandal perpetrated by Bill Clinton and Mr. Gore.

Charles LaBella, a veteran prosecutor whom Miss Reno brought into the Justice Department to direct a preliminary review of the scandal, agrees. "The contortions that the department has gone through to avoid investigating these allegations are apparent," Mr. LaBella wrote in a 1998 memo.

Clinton political appointees in the department bent over backward and used every excuse they could muster "to keep the matter out of reach of the Independent Counsel Act," Mr. LaBella said.

Even within the Justice Department, independent-minded attorneys such as Robert S. Litt, a top aide in the criminal division, thinks the evidence that Mr. Gore did not tell the truth to FBI investigators warrants a fuller and more independent probe.

"Were I the prosecutor in charge of this matter, I might well decline the matter after an investigation… . But for us to decline even to investigate this matter … seems to me inconsistent with the Independent Counsel Act," Mr. Litt said in another memo.

Mr. LaBella, Mr. Freeh, FBI Assistant Director James DeSarno, and FBI General Counsel Larry Parkinson believe Mr. Gore was a chief player in an illegal scheme to "raise money by whatever means and from whomever would give it, without meaningful attention to the lawfulness of the contributions."

The Clinton-Gore campaign "was so corrupted by bloated fund raising and questionable contributions that the system became a caricature of itself," they said.

The question at the heart of the inquiry centers on the phone calls Mr. Gore admitted he made from the White House to raise millions of dollars for the Democratic National Committee to bankroll the Clinton-Gore TV ad campaign in 1996. Mr. Gore told the FBI he did not know some of the funds he solicited went into "hard money" accounts for the campaign. It is illegal to raise such funds on federal property, and Mr. Gore knows that.

But further investigation by Mr. LaBella and Mr. Freeh found that during the campaign, Mr. Gore attended a White House meeting at which a 65-35 percent split of soft and hard money for the Democratic National Committee was discussed.

Mr. Gore said he did not remember such a discussion and may have been out of the room when it took place. But the FBI produced "credible" testimony and notes from participants at the meeting, including former chief of staff Leon Panetta and David Strauss, Mr. Gore's former deputy chief of staff, and others, who said Mr. Gore paid close attention to all the proceedings.

The memos released by House Government Re-form Committee Chairman Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, do not mince words. They talk about Mr. Gore's possible perjury, about the need for a grand jury, and about people who have "lied under oath."

Mr. Freeh told Miss Reno that, in opposing a special counsel, her aides had relied on people "who have ostensibly lied under oath or who were actively being considered for possible perjury charges."

Mr. Litt reminded Miss Reno and her advisers that "It is not uncommon for us to bring a perjury case where the defendant's statements are contradicted by documents that were sent to him, or statements at a meeting he attended, and for the defendant to claim that he did not read that document or pay attention during the meeting."

Another Justice Department attorney, whose name was deleted from his memo, wrote that "the evidence we now have … supports an argument that the vice president had to have known that hard money was a component of the Media Fund."

Even Lee Radek, chief of the department's public integrity section, who opposed investigating Mr. Gore, said on "Meet The Press" on Sunday, "Clearly there was some evidence that he may have known that what he said was false."

Mr. Radek was the one who told two FBI agents that he was "under pressure" not to recommend an independent counsel because Miss Reno's job was "hanging in the balance."

There was a chance that thousands of long-hidden White House e-mail messages could have provided further evidence of Mr. Gore's complicity in the scandal. But in a truly Nixonian twist, the White House said last week that the messages to and from Mr. Gore can never be retrieved because of a "technical error" that eliminated the backup system. Sure.

Mr. Burton is dead right when he says Miss Reno and her gang have "made a mockery of justice." All of this smells like a Watergate-type cover-up and obstruction of justice to protect Al Gore until after the election.

But we have yet to hear from the American people. They will have the last word in this scandal when they vote in November.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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