Attorney General Janet Reno has decided against naming a special prosecutor to investigate Vice President Al Gore’s 1996 campaign fund-raising.
Rejecting advice from the chief of the Justice Department’s campaign finance task force, Reno declared today that “no criminal investigation is warranted” with regard to Gore’s fund-raising.
“Because further investigation is not likely to result in a prosecutable case,” Reno told reporters this morning, “I have concluded that a special counsel is not warranted.”
Robert Conrad Jr., the supervising attorney heading up the department’s probe, recommended to the attorney general in June that a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate whether or not the vice president made false statements under oath. Conrad concluded that Gore was less than truthful in an April 18 interview on his role in allegedly improper campaign finance practices. Reno announced today that she did not reach the same conclusion.
“I’ve carefully reviewed the transcripts of the vice president’s interview,” she said. “The transcript reflects neither false statements, nor perjury, each of which requires proof of a willfully false statement about a material matter.”
The Gore presidential campaign was understandably delighted at the decision. “It’s good news,” said spokesman Douglas Hattaway. “We’re pleased the matter has been fully resolved. Al Gore is focused on the future.”
But his Republican opponent, George W. Bush, said the entire episode was just another reminder that the White House needs to be aired out.
“The American people are sick and tired of all these scandals and investigations. The best way to put all these scandals and investigations behind us is to elect someone new,” Bush said in a prepared statement, e-mailed to reporters while he spent a day off the trail in Austin, Texas. “I’m running to uphold the honor and dignity of the White House.”
Haunted by Buddhist Temple Event
The vice president’s involvement in the 1996 Democratic campaign finance scandals has haunted Gore as he seeks the White House. His videotaped appearance at a now-infamous event at a Buddhist temple outside of Los Angeles was widely criticized. But Gore has steadfastly insisted that he did not believe money was raised at the controversial event and continues to deny any wrongdoing.
In June, saying “the truth is my friend,” Gore released the full 123-page transcript of his interview with Justice Department investigators, in an effort to prove that he did not lie during the four-hour session. “I sure as hell did not have any conversations with anyone saying ‘This is a fund-raising event,’” the vice president told Conrad in the April interview.
Reno explained that Gore maintained that no money was raised at the temple or at dozens of White House “coffee klatches” hosted by him and President Clinton, but conceded the events were aimed at building relationships with potential donors in the hopes that they would contribute money in the future.
“The concern was that the vice president called it a ‘fund-raiser’ and made references to it being ‘finance-related,’” Reno said this morning. “I reached the conclusion that he vice president had not, based on this record, failed to describe what the role [of the events] in fund-raising was.”
Reno ‘Couldn’t Get Past Threshold’