- The Washington Times - Friday, September 15, 2000

Vice President Al Gore was asked by the Democratic National Committee in 1995 to solicit $600,000 in donations from not one, as previously reported, but six wealthy Texas personal injury lawyers, just weeks before President Clinton was to veto a bill limiting cash awards in product-liability cases.
The solicitation requests are listed on telephone call sheets prepared by the Democratic National Committee and, according to documents obtained by The Washington Times, were sent to Mr. Gore two days after he attended a November 1995 fund-raiser at the Houston home of John Eddy Williams, a Texas personal-injury lawyer, who has given $550,000 to Democrats since 1995.
The Nov. 30, 1995, call sheets were followed up on at least one occasion by DNC Chairman Donald L. Fowler, who asked Beaumont, Texas, lawyer Walter Umphrey for a $100,000 donation. That request, outlined in a Dec. 13, 1995, call sheet prepared by DNC aide Erica Payne, contained the notation:
"Sorry you missed the vice president. I know [you] will give $100k when the President vetoes tort reform, but we really need it now. Please send ASAP if possible."
Mr. Gore's White House office has denied any wrongdoing and accused Republicans of making "recycled partisan charges."
The office said the vice president did not make any calls for cash in exchange for a veto by Mr. Clinton on tort reform.
On May 2, 1996, Mr. Clinton vetoed a tort reform bill that passed the House 259-158 and the Senate 61-37. The bill would have given defendants protection against damages for harm due to the plaintiff's own use of drugs or alcohol, reduced manufacturers' liability, required plaintiffs to prove the harm they suffered was the result of gross negligence or intentional conduct, and limited punitive damage awards.
The six lawyers and their firms, along with Mr. Williams and others who attended the Houston fund-raiser, eventually contributed $4 million to the Clinton-Gore 1996 Re-election Campaign. They actively opposed tort reform, although linking donations to specific legislation is improper and, according to authorities, can be illegal.
The Justice Department's campaign-finance task force, which is investigating suspected abuses during the 1996 election, has begun a preliminary inquiry into the solicitation efforts, according to law enforcement authorities. The probe was ordered by task force chief Robert J. Conrad Jr., who previously called for a special counsel to determine whether Mr. Gore lied to investigators about his fund-raising activities.
Attorney General Janet Reno, who rejected the Conrad recommendation, declined during her weekly press briefing yesterday to say whether the Justice Department was investigating the new Gore and DNC accusations.
In addition to the federal probe, two of the lawyers on the call sheets, Mr. Umphrey and Houston's John O'Quinn, along with Mr. Williams, at whose home the fund-raiser was held, are the focus of an ethics inquiry by Texas Attorney General John Cornyn into fees they charged to negotiate a $17.3 billion settlement between Texas and the tobacco industry.
The lawyers recently returned $6.9 million in expenses they claimed as part of the settlement. In 1998, they were awarded $3.3 billion in legal fees, including $40 million for expenses from the tobacco industry in 1998.
"After 18 months of assuring the people of Texas their expenses were justified in every way, and claiming they acted ethically, these tobacco trial lawyers are now returning millions of dollars with no satisfactory explanation as to why," Mr. Cornyn said in a recent statement.
The lawyers returned the expenses, with interest, after Mr. Cornyns office sought to question them under oath about the charges.
Mr. Fowler, who runs a South Carolina consulting firm, did not return calls to his office yesterday for comment. He told reporters earlier this week he did not remember making the call to Mr. Umphrey, although he did not deny it occurred.
Mr. Umphrey was not available yesterday, and his secretary refused to take any messages. He previously has said his donations were not linked to the president's veto and he did not remember receiving a call from Mr. Gore.
Five others listed on the call sheets were Richard Mithoff, G.P. Hardy, Ronald D. Krist, Joe Jamail and Mr. O'Quinn, all of Houston. Mr. Mithoff, Mr. Krist, Mr. Jamail and Mr. O'Quinn did not return calls to their offices for comment.
Mr. Hardy said he was "absolutely certain" Mr. Gore did not make any call to him to request cash.
He said such a call would have been "fruitless," although he now supports Mr. Gore and believes "he will be a fine president."
The DNC call sheets not only list the lawyers, their addresses and telephone numbers, but the names of their assistants and associates, their contribution history, and their legal specialties.
Each of the sheets says the lawyers should be asked for "$100k" for the DNC's media fund unlimited "soft money" donations used for issue ads and party-building activities. The use of soft money to help elect specific candidates is illegal.

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