BY PHIL Kuntz
Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
AUGUST 18, 1998
Justice Department has reopened its review of whether Vice President
Al Gore violated federal election laws by making fund-raising
telephone calls from the White House, officials familiar with
the matter said.
The review is part of Attorney General Janet
Reno's effort to determine whether to reverse her opposition to
an independent counsel to investigate fund-raising abuses during
the 1996 campaign. Officials said several witnesses who had been
questioned about the phone calls in, the past have been re-interviewed
in recent days. Ms. Reno late last year decided against calling
for an independent counsel to investigate whether the phone calls
violated a rarely prosecuted law against soliciting certain campaign
donations while on federal property.
Mr. Gore's phone calls were one of several
issues raised by the former head of the department's campaign-finance
task force, Charles LaBella, in a confidential report urging the
appointment of the independent counsel. The report also argues
that an independent counsel should investigate the fund-raising
activities of former senior White House aide and presidential
confidant Harold Ickes, who helped run the Clinton-Gore re-election
Some Justice Department officials who previously
had opposed the appointment of an independent counsel appear to
be leaning toward doing so to investigate Mr. Ickes. The most
serious question concerns whether Mr. Ickes committed perjury
in testifying to Senate investigators last year about administration
efforts to help the Teamster while soliciting significant donations
from the union.
Mr. Gore's office didn't have any immediate
comment yesterday. The vice president previously denied any wrongdoing.
Mr. Ickes yesterday also denied any wrongdoing.
The review of Mr. Gore's fund-raising activities
apparently was prompted by new information about whether he was
aware that he was as raising "hard money." Those are
donations that are subject to federal limits and are covered by
the antisolicitation law, as opposed to "soft money,"
which supposedly isn't used to influence federal elections and
isn't covered by the law .
In rejecting calls for a special prosecutor
last year, Ms. Reno said her investigators had determined that
"the vice president solicited only soft money in these calls,
not hard money," noting that no donor said otherwise, and
follow-up instructions had the donors direct the money to soft-money
accounts. Also. the size of the donations exceeded hard-money
limits. However. some of the money Mr. Gore raised in 45 calls
from his office in the White House complex was later deposited
into hard-money accounts. But, Ms. Reno said last year, "investigators
found no evidence that the vice president was aware of this practice."
Congressional investigators have long questioned
that conclusion because memos dealing with fund-raising efforts
at the time repeatedly emphasized the need for hard money.
It is far from clear, however, that Ms. Reno will have an independent counsel investigate Mr. Gore's phone calls. In opting against an independent counsel last year, Ms. Reno indicated she would have done the same thing even if the vice president knew he was raising hard money. The independent counsel statute bars her from seeking a special prosecutor to investigate violations the department wouldn't normally prosecute.