- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2000

A Senate Republican leader said yesterday that reports Vice President Al Gore solicited a $100,000 contribution as a quid pro quo for a presidential veto are part of an "active, ongoing" investigation by the Justice Department.
"It's just another shoe to fall in an active, right now, ongoing, open investigation of Al Gore and campaign fund-raising activities," Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, deputy majority whip, said on "Fox News Sunday."
Mr. Frist said the truth may never be known about the quid pro quo, which Mr. Gore denies. But the senator said the matter should not be dismissed.
"It's not a non-story because it's an active story right now. Whether it starts with the Buddhist temple or whatever spin is given, the investigation right now according to the highest officials in the Justice Department is active, ongoing and should continue," he said.
Democrats and Republicans who appeared on Sunday talk shows had different views on the significance of reports suggesting Mr. Gore and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Donald Fowler sought $100,000 from a wealthy Texas trial lawyer in 1995 after promising that President Clinton would veto a bill limiting damage awards in product-liability cases.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said on "Fox News Sunday" he's convinced there was a connection between campaign funds the Clinton-Gore ticket received from trial lawyers in 1996 and the president's veto of tort-reform legislation.
"I haven't gotten into all of the details, but it sure does smell… . There is no question there is a quid pro quo," the Mississippi Republican said yesterday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat, who appeared on Fox, strongly disagreed. "There's certainly no indication of a quid pro quo. President Clinton had made it clear he was going to veto the bill long before any of this happened."
When Mr. Edwards portrayed these newly disclosed reports as information that's been "out there" for four years, Mr. Frist retorted: "You can't just put this behind. This was 1996, but what's happened over that is the same allegations, whether it's the Buddhist temple or what we discovered this past week.
"You can't shove this under the rug before the American people. We're talking about who's going to be the next president," said the Tennessee Republican.
Mr. Edwards, a finalist in Mr. Gore's search for a running mate, responded: "It's now become clear over the course of the last couple of days that there's no investigation of Al Gore. So this has nothing to do with this presidential race."
In a November 1995 telephone "call sheet" prepared for Mr. Gore by the Democratic National Committee, the vice president was instructed to ask trial lawyer Walter Umphrey for $100,000 for the DNC's media fund. The "call sheet," which listed people Mr. Gore should call and offered tips on how to approach them, informed Mr. Gore that Mr. Umphrey was "closely following" tort reform.
Mr. Gore says he never called Mr. Umphrey.
Two weeks later, the DNC chairman, Mr. Fowler, received a similar directive to ask Mr. Umphrey for cash. The "call sheet" suggested Mr. Fowler tell him: "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."
"I don't think that memo means anything," Mr. Edwards said on Fox. "Al Gore isn't involved. He never made the call."
Gore campaign chairman William M. Daley, interviewed yesterday on CBS, said he does not believe Mr. Gore is vulnerable in the presidential race as a result of the new accusations.
"Some people want to keep going back to allegations about the '96 election. Let's look at the year 2000. This race is about what's going on today and about the future," the former commerce secretary said on "Face the Nation."
Asked if the Justice Department is investigating the question of whether legislation was vetoed in return for campaign contributions, Mr. Daley said, "According to the reports that I have seen … the Justice Department is not."
In the reports referred to by Mr. Daley, Justice officials said they are not starting a separate inquiry into a possible quid pro quo, but would investigate it as part of their overall campaign fund-raising probe.
"The point is it's part of this active, ongoing, much larger investigation," Mr. Frist explained on Fox.
Mr. Lott, on CBS, recalled that "when the president vetoed tort reform … even Joe Lieberman said, 'Look, this is wrong. This is a reasonable bill. We ought to do it.'
"But the power of the trial lawyers on the White House is very strong," the majority leader said.

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