- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2000

President Clinton yesterday complained that his administration has been unfairly tainted by "bogus" scandals, which he predicted will not hurt Vice President Al Gore's bid for the White House.

"The word 'scandal' has been thrown around here like a clanging teapot for seven years," Mr. Clinton said during a wide-ranging press conference. "Let me remind you that a lot of these … so-called 'scandals' were bogus."

Spreading his arms wide in an expression of indignation, Mr. Clinton pooh-poohed the probe of the Arkansas land deal known as Whitewater.

The president and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton were never charged in the land deal, although the Whitewater investigation was widened to include the Monica Lewinsky affair, which resulted in Mr. Clinton's impeachment.

"You all know that the Whitewater thing was bogus from day one," the president scolded reporters in the East Room of the White House. "It had nothing to do with the official conduct of the administration anyway."

Mr. Clinton also downplayed investigations into former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros and former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy.

Cisneros pled guilty to lying to the FBI about "hush money" to a mistress. Mr. Espy was cleared of accepting illegal gifts, although a Tyson Foods executive was convicted of giving Mr. Espy illegal gifts.

"Mike Espy was acquitted," the president said. "The Cisneros thing was a tempest in a teapot, totally overdone."

Mr. Clinton praised The Washington Post for defending the administration against unfair scandal accusations.

"There was one columnist in The Washington Post that had the uncommon decency to say: Will no one ever stand up here and say that a whole bunch of this stuff was just garbage, and that we had totally innocent people prosecuted because they wouldn't lie; we had totally innocent people's lives wrecked because they wouldn't go along with this alleged scandal machine?"

Mr. Clinton also defended Mr. Gore against growing calls for a special counsel to investigate fund-raising improprieties during the 1996 presidential campaign.

"The only thing, as far as I know, that he's been in any way implicated in is this finance campaign thing," the president said, adding that Mr. Gore has disproven "a lot of the accusations against him."

Mr. Clinton tried to discourage second-guessing of Attorney General Janet Reno, who has resisted calls from several of her lieutenants and FBI Director Louis J. Freeh to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Mr. Gore.

"There are some people in the Justice Department that think there should be, and some who think there shouldn't be," the president said. "And the attorney general, who has shown no reluctance to ask for a special counsel when she thought one was called for, didn't think one was called for in this case."

Miss Reno called for seven outside prosecutors during Mr. Clinton's first term and none during his second. The prosecutors investigated five Cabinet secretaries, a Clinton campaign aide and the president himself, who was impeached as a result.

On the day of his impeachment, Mr. Clinton was lauded by Mr. Gore as one of the greatest presidents in history. Yesterday, Mr. Clinton returned the compliment.

"No person in the history of the republic has ever had the positive impact on this country as vice president that Al Gore has had," the president said.

Asked to explain Mr. Gore's consistently sagging poll numbers, the president said there is a lot of "volatility" in public opinion because "people are still trying to figure out what they're going to do."

He suggested the vice president will come into his own during the Democratic National Convention in late summer and the presidential debates in the fall.

"It's still more likely than not that he will win," Mr. Clinton said.

As for the notion that Clinton scandals will diminish support for Mr. Gore, the president predicted that voters will not hold the vice president responsible "for anything I did that they didn't agree with, or that was wrong."

Mr. Clinton passed up opportunities to criticize Mr. Gore's opponent, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, on his intellectual readiness for the presidency and his strong support for the death penalty. After some prodding, however, the president tried to link Mr. Bush to skyrocketing gasoline prices.

Mr. Clinton cited a "1992 letter in which he was arguing for high energy prices. So I'm glad that he changed his position."

The president made no mention of Mr. Gore's call for higher gasoline taxes in his 1992 book, "Earth in the Balance." Mr. Clinton also seemed reluctant to temporarily roll back any portion of the federal gasoline tax of 18 cents per gallon.

"First of all, the federal gas tax is not that big," he said.

"We will have fundamentally higher prices … until we make up our minds that we are going to drive higher-mileage vehicles and do other things that use less oil," Mr. Clinton added. "A lot of these cars could be on the road and available for sale within two years."

Roughly half the federal gas tax was initially levied for the purposes of deficit reduction and another 4.3 cents was tacked on as part of Mr. Clinton's 1993 "economic stimulus" package, which needed Mr. Gore's tie-breaking vote in the Senate to pass.

Although Mr. Clinton bragged yesterday of turning deficits into record surpluses, he warned against rolling back the gas tax.

"Congress should be satisfied that whatever the financial consequences are to the highway construction and repair program are consequences they're willing to pay and they think their constituents are willing to pay," the president said in response to a question from The Washington Times.

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