- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 2000

Vice President Al Gore's campaign chairman, Tony Coelho, is the target of at least three federal investigations that are fueling Democratic concern about their impact on Mr. Gore's presidential campaign.

At the same time, some Democrats are privately beginning to question Mr. Coelho's overall handling of the campaign in the past month. Mr. Gore's polls have declined in a half-dozen states, such as Washington, Oregon and West Virginia, that his party normally carries with ease.

Morale on the campaign staff at the vice president's headquarters in Nashville, Tenn., is reportedly falling under Mr. Coelho's blunt, brash management style. And there is grumbling that the campaign has no compelling message and has been too negative.

"Gore is not out there with a positive message telling people why he should be president. His attacks [on Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the probable Republican nominee] are not getting him anywhere right now," said Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic strategist who is a political adviser to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

"There's a risk if you stay in an attack mode too long, you end up looking like a politician and not a leader. The voters are tired of attack-style politics," former Rep. Tim Penny, Minnesota Democrat, said of Mr. Gore's attacks on Mr. Bush.

With Mr. Gore undergoing his third Justice Department investigation into the Clinton-Gore campaign-finance scandal this time about missing White House e-mail messages related to the scandal the vice president can ill-afford to be associated with more government probes and yet another scandal.

But Mr. Coelho is not only being investigated simultaneously by the State Department's Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about his past business dealings, the probes involve subpoenas, testimony from witnesses and possible grand jury action.

Moreover, the national news media, which had largely steered clear of the Coelho investigations, has begun to focus on them in recent weeks. Two stories on the probes appeared in this week's issues of Time and Newsweek magazines, among other publications.

A headline over the Time article detailing Mr. Coelho's legal battles read: "The Trouble With Tony."

Most Democrats do not think that the investigations will have any impact on Mr. Gore's campaign, unless something new is uncovered.

"There's nothing new in any of these articles that haven't appeared before," a veteran Democratic strategist said Thursday. Why the sudden flurry of articles about Mr. Coelho in the past few weeks? "It's the usual people shooting at Tony from the inside that goes on in every campaign."

Mr. Gore's critics, however, say the charges are serious and growing media interest in them is going to increase pressure on Mr. Gore to address them in a public forum.

"Why would the vice president want someone as his campaign chairman who is under federal investigation? You would think that a scandal-besmirched vice president would want someone who was squeaky clean," said Charles Lewis, who heads the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity.

"It's true that there's nothing new in these stories, but none of it has been addressed by the vice president. Gore has never answered any substantive questions about the Coelho situation and the ethical cloud around his campaign chairman," Mr. Lewis said.

"Coelho has not responded directly, either. He has stonewalled reporters. That's the Gore campaign's strategy," he said.

Mr. Coelho's attorney, Stanley Brand, said that his client has done nothing illegal and Mr. Gore's advisers say that Mr. Coelho's job is secure.

But outside party strategists and Gore critics fear that continuing news media reports of Mr. Coelho's legal troubles are the last thing that Mr. Gore needs right now after nearly eight years as vice president in a scandal-ridden administration.

"If they continue, it could hurt the campaign," said a well-connected Democratic Party adviser.

The State Department investigation, conducted by its Office of Inspector General, is looking into whether Mr. Coelho abused his position as U.S. commissioner to the 1998 World Exposition in Lisbon, Portugal, to promote his many business dealings and a private foundation. The ongoing investigation has subpoenaed documents and witnesses and the case could be presented to a grand jury.

"He was running a one-man show with Expo as a backdrop. He used all of the cachet and resources of his position to further his business interests," said a senior foreign-service officer in a lengthy investigative article about the case published by the National Journal in March.

An initial, still-confidential audit of the way Mr. Coelho handled the U.S. commissioner's office "detailed numerous financial irregularities, as well as the potential violations of law," the National Journal reported.

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