GOP presidential candidate George W. Bush pounced on the latest Justice Department investigation of the Clinton administration today, hoping to bolster his call for new blood in the Oval Office.
“Americans are tired of investigations and scandal,” Bush said, amid fresh reports that federal investigators are looking into whether the Democratic Party linked campaign donations to a presidential veto. “The best way to get rid of them is to elect a new president who will bring a new administration who will restore dignity and honor to the White House.”
At the center of the controversy are 5-year-old fund-raising “call sheets” that indicated party officials wanted Vice President Al Gore — who is now running for president on the Democratic ticket — to personally call a trial lawyer and solicit donations.
Justice Department investigators are trying to determine if the Democratic National Committee tried to raise money from attorney Don Umphrey, a DNC donor, by putting into play an expected veto by President Clinton of a Republican bill that set liability limits on lawsuits — a veto that Umphrey and other attorneys stood to benefit from.
A call sheet dated Dec. 13, 1995, that was sent to Donald L. Fowler, then national chairman of the DNC, suggested language that could be used in a call to the lawyer.
“Sorry you missed the Vice President,” the document says. “I know will give $100K when the President vetos Tort reform, but we really need it now. Please send ASAP if possible.”
An earlier note shows Gore was asked to call Umphrey. But the vice president never did, according to an aide, and Fowler says he has no memory of the note and insists he would never allow the use of language linking fund-raising to a presidential veto.
Bush Back on Offense
Bush seized on the new allegations in an attempt to get his snake-bit campaign back on the offensive.
“I will restore the bond of trust between the president and all Americans,” the Texas governor told a meeting of the National Guard Association in California today. “Just today, there are new revelations about the potential misuse of the White House for fund-raising purposes. New evidence that my opponent may have crossed a serious line — solicitation of campaign contributions linked to a presidential veto. The appearance is really disturbing.”
Democrats dismissed the flap as just the latest in a long string of frivolous scandal mongering.
“Republicans and others have had this material for more than 1,000 days and no one thought this was interesting until 1,000 hours before the election,” said Gore spokesman Jim Kennedy.
The White House insisted Clinton had long been opposed to the type of liability legislation passed by Congress in 1995 and denied any link between his veto and campaign fund-raising appeals.
“[It] doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out where the president is on tort reform,” said White House spokesman Joe Lockhart. “[The veto] should have come as no surprise to anyone, given the president’s views.”
No Comment From Reno
Attorney General Janet Reno refused to comment on reports that the Justice Department’s campaign finance task force is looking into the DNC call sheets.
“As we approach the election, I think there will be more issues like this raised and we should be very careful,” she told reporters at a briefing this morning. “We’re going to review everything that comes up if there is anything based on the evidence and the law.”
The task force is headed by Robert Conrad, who previously recommended that Reno appoint a special counsel to investigate whether or not Gore made false statements to federal investigators about his role in the broader 1996 fund-raising scandals.
Since Gore was asked to make the call to Umphrey in 1995, the attorney and his law firm, which is involved in tobacco industry litigation, have contributed $790,000 to the Democratic Party. The newly revealed documents suggest party officials were concerned that Umphrey wouldn’t begin writing six-figure checks until after Clinton vetoed the GOP-backed liability bill.
Umphrey is one of five trial lawyers at the center of a legal dispute between the Texas Attorney General John Cornyn and attorneys who represented the state in litigation to recover money from tobacco companies for health care costs. The trial lawyers are receiving $3.3 billion for the tobacco case and Cornyn is seeking to question the lawyers who negotiated the state’s tobacco settlement.
ABC Radio’s Bettina Gregory and The Associated Press contributed to this report.