- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2000

President Clinton yesterday called Vice President Al Gore "a good messenger" on campaign finance reform and said he was "as appalled as the next person" to learn his campaign accepted illegal foreign donations in 1996.

"I was outraged when I found out that the system for checking the backgrounds of contributors and things like that had been dismantled without my knowledge or approval," Mr. Clinton said at his second news conference of the year.

"We didn't need it to win. It was wrong," Mr. Clinton said.

Mr. Clinton also defended his administration's handling of subpoenaed White House e-mail, including messages from Monica Lewinsky to grand jury witnesses.

"I believe that it is accurate to say that we had turned over everything that had been found" to a federal grand jury and three congressional committees, Mr. Clinton told reporters during an hourlong news conference in the East Room.

"And from what I understand, some things were not found because they were in a different system. And so now we're working out how to cooperate with the Congress," he said. "I'm confident that whatever's the right thing to do, we'll do."

Mr. Clinton, after a lengthy flight back from India, sought to re-energize his stalled domestic agenda with 10 months left in his presidency.

The president fielded questions from 22 reporters. He addressed topics that ranged from White House scandals to police shootings in New York; from China's trade status to the role of his daughter Chelsea; from OPEC oil to the Oscar-winning film "American Beauty."

Mr. Gore is under fire for attending a Buddhist temple fund-raiser and for raising cash from the White House. The vice president announced his own campaign finance proposal earlier this week, conceding he may be an "imperfect messenger" for the cause.

Mr. Clinton embraced the vice president's plan for a $7.1 billion "democracy endowment" to fund House and Senate campaigns.

"I thought it was good idea," Mr. Clinton told reporters. "I kind of wish I'd thought of it myself."

The endowment, to be funded through tax-free contributions, makes sense because "it costs so much money to communicate with people over the mass media," Mr. Clinton said.

The president defended his handling of illegal fund raising in the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election campaign.

He noted that Mr. Gore supports the McCain-Feingold bill that would prohibit unregulated "soft money" contributions.

"So I think he's a good messenger," Mr. Clinton said. "You know, I think he was showing a little humility, and I think that's always a good thing."

The president, boosting his dormant domestic agenda, asked Congress to pass a bill that would "close the gun-show loophole," require child safety locks for all handguns and ban importation of large ammunition clips by April 20, the first anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado.

"Again, for the sake of our children, I ask Congress to stop the delay," Mr. Clinton said.

Later, the president defended the film "American Beauty," which won the Oscar for best picture, from a question that cited it as part of the culture of violence that he cited last year after Columbine. Mr. Clinton said the film's bloody conclusion did not glorify violence.

"I thought it was an astonishing movie, actually. And I certainly don't think anyone who watched it and understood it would think of it as glorifying violence," he said.

Mr. Clinton asked Congress to pass a raft of languishing legislation: Medicare reform with a prescription-drug benefit, a patients bill of rights, an increase in the minimum wage and permanent normal trade relations with China.

But the president seemed reluctant to weigh in on a hot issue in New York, where first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton is running for the U.S. Senate: police fatally shooting three unarmed black men in the past 13 months.

"The focus ought to be everywhere on having the right kind of training" and "the right kind of policy direction" to bring down crime while improving police-community relations, Mr. Clinton said.

The Clintons' daughter, Chelsea, accompanied him on his trip to Southeast Asia while Mrs. Clinton campaigned in New York. The president said he hopes his daughter, a junior at Stanford University, can join him on additional foreign trips before his presidency ends.

"I think she's like Hillary and me. All three of us … want to savor the weeks and months we have ahead in this, our last year," Mr. Clinton said.

"I think she was kind of taken aback by the attention she got in India, in particular," Mr. Clinton added.

On foreign policy, Mr. Clinton said he did not envision a deployment of American advisers, monitors or troops on the Golan Heights to secure an Israeli-Syrian peace accord.

"They both need to come up with some ideas and start talking," Mr. Clinton said.

The president does not regret his praise of Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Mr. Clinton called Mr. Jiang a visionary two years ago during a news conference in Hong Kong. China since has accelerated its belligerence against Taiwan without improving its human rights record.

"Given the alternatives of who could have been the president of China, that I'm aware of, and who could have been the premier, I think that President Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji are the best team that could have been in their positions at that time," Mr. Clinton said.

He declined to weigh in on a delicate bit of diplomacy a public disagreement between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his pregnant wife, Cherie. Mrs. Blair wants her husband to take parental leave when the child is born.

"I would like to have been a fly on the wall when they first talked about that after it appeared in public," Mr. Clinton said. "But, you know, I feel very close to both Tony and Cherie. I don't want to get in the middle of that.

"There must be a 'third way' to handle this challenge," Mr. Clinton said, referring to the shorthand term he and Mr. Blair use for their politics.

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