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We now know at least one of the things Atty. Gen. Janet Reno has been
trying to cover up by refusing to comply with an 18-month-old subpoena
from the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee demanding that
she release a memo written to her in July 1998 by federal prosecutor
LaBella, who Reno handpicked to serve as chief of the task force
investigating campaign finance corruption, believed Vice President Al
Gore may have lied to federal investigators.
He was convinced that the evidence of this lie and other possible
crimes by high White House officials, including President Clinton, left
Reno no legal alternative but to call for an independent counsel.
In a redacted portion of the memo that was leaked last week to the
Los Angeles Times, LaBella said Gore “may have provided false testimony”
about his fundraising activities. Specifically, the vice president
claimed he did not recall internal White House conversations and memos
in which he was specifically informed that he was raising “hard,” rather
than “soft,” money. “Hard” money contributions are contributions that
can be used to directly support a federal election campaign such as the
Clinton-Gore 1996 reelection effort. Raising such money from a White
House office — as Gore did via his telephone — is unambiguously
The vice president’s convenient lack of recollection stood in stark
contrast to testimony from then-White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta,
who swore that he remembered watching Gore “attentively listening” to
the conversations in question and “walking through the papers.”
It has long been apparent from the publicly available evidence that
Gore was stuck between two possible felony raps. If he had told the
truth to the American people in his infamous March 3, 1997, press
conference, he had committed the crime of illegally raising hard money
in the White House. If he had repeated this public story privately to
federal investigators, they would have had no choice but to conclude he
had committed a crime.
We now know that Gore switched his story for the federal
investigators, who had good reason to believe he was lying to them,
itself a felony. Janet Reno then went to great lengths to cover that
In sworn testimony on Dec. 9, 1997, before the House Government
Reform and Oversight Committee, under cross examination from a
well-prepared Rep. John Shadegg, R.-Ariz., Reno admitted that the words
and phrases Gore had used at his press conference to describe his White
House fundraising solicitations described the solicitation of “hard
money.” She also admitted that soliciting “hard money” in the business
quarters of the White House is illegal.
So how could she justify not calling for an independent counsel?
Read below as Shadegg ties Reno in knots. Then look at some of the
evidence she was sitting on. Meanwhile, remember, there are other
elements of the LaBella memo that have yet to see the light of day.
Shadegg: Your report also concludes that some of the money
was in fact — raised by the vice president — was in fact used by the
DNC as hard money. That’s on page 8. You would agree with that?
Reno: That’s correct.
Shadegg: Okay. Your report also concludes that, at least for
the purposes of the report, you will assume that the statute makes it
illegal for the vice president from the White House to raise hard money
Reno: That’s correct. …
Shadegg: … [Y]ou then conclude, I believe at page 10 of the
report, that there is, and in your words, “no evidence on which to
conclude that the vice president was raising contributions that were
hard money.” That is, that were campaign contributions. Is that
Reno: That he was soliciting hard money.
Shadegg: No evidence to believe that he was doing that?
Reno: That’s correct.
Shadegg: And based on that, you conclude there is no
reasonable ground to believe that a further investigation of the
allegation that he broke the law is required?
Reno: That’s correct.
Shadegg: Okay. Would you agree with me, Madame Attorney
General, that the best evidence of whether or not the vice president was
soliciting hard money campaign contributions would be his own words?
Reno: It would be a variety of information.
Shadegg: Certainly it would be fairly good evidence, would it
not? His own description of what he was doing?
Reno: Yes. But again, we wanted to make sure that we did not
rely on the vice president predominantly, that we looked at all the
Shadegg: Well, your report pretty well concludes that, number
one, yes, he made the calls, yes, some of the money was used as hard
money, but he didn’t know of the DNC policy to use it as hard money, so
he didn’t know he was raising hard money. And you just agreed with me
that if he was raising hard money that that would appear to be a
violation of the law — at least your report assumed that — and that it
was likely, absent the issue of aggravating circumstances, that you
would have called for an independent investigation, right?
Reno: Depending on the circumstances and the aggravating
Shadegg: I simply want to go to the vice president’s own
press conference on this issue, a press conference importantly that
occurred before the defense of soft money had occurred. And I want to
point out that in the transcript of that press conference the vice
president does not once say that he believed he was raising soft money.
… The first paragraph that I’d like to read reads as follows: “First
of all, I want to spell out the facts of my role in the campaign. First
of all, to state the obvious, I was a candidate for reelection in the
campaign. I worked very hard for the reelection of President Clinton
and myself. I am very proud that I was able to be effective in helping
to reelect President Clinton, and I was very proud that I was able to
also as a part of that effort to help raise campaign funds.”
Now, he describes them himself as “campaign funds.”
Then … at a later point in the press conference, he says, “We felt
as we were preparing for our campaign a general sense that we wanted to
make sure that we had the ability to compete.”
Okay? Now he’s talking about “our” campaign. First he was talking
about to help raise campaign funds, now he’s talking about funds for
And at an additional point in the campaign — and we can put this one
up: “I was helping to raise funds for the campaign.” Now … he says,
“But I don’t think it is surprising to people that when a president and
a vice president are running for reelection and the vice president helps
to raise funds for the campaign.”
Each of these appear to me, Madame Attorney General, to be references
to his reelection campaign, which would be hard money, would they not?
Reno: That’s correct.
Shadegg: Okay. Then the last one I want to bring to your
attention is that in that same portion of the transcript at the same
press conference —
Reno: Well, what I answered — when you ask, “Is that
correct” — that contributions to the Clinton-Gore campaign —
Shadegg: To his reelection campaign.
Reno: — would be hard money.
Shadegg: Right. … Now the last quote I want to bring you
from his press conference is that it says — point blank — he says, “My
counsel advises me that there is no controlling legal authority” — the
phrase that became famous from that press conference — “or case that
says there was any violation of law whatsoever in the manner in which I
asked people to contribute to our reelection campaign.”
… I think this is pretty clear evidence that at the time he did it,
he thought it was hard money.
Reno: Based on the interview of over 200 witnesses, based on
the analysis of documents, we disagree.
Reno’s original opinion clearing Gore:
“The vice president provided a reasonable explanation of his
conduct. He stated that he understood the media campaign to be funded
entirely by soft money, and that he was soliciting large soft money
contributions specifically for that campaign.”
— December 1997
Memo from Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes to Gore and President
“Thus, the remainder of the fundraising efforts between now and the
end of October will have to focus very much on increasing the amount of
federal [hard] dollars raised.”
— June 3, 1996
Reno’s second opinion clearing Gore:
“[There is] only weak circumstantial evidence of the vice
president’s knowledge — his presence at a meeting where the subject was
briefly discussed — which I do not believe provides reasonable grounds
to believe that further investigation of this matter is warranted.”
— Nov. 24, 1998
“Confronted with notes and memos indicating that a November 1995
meeting Gore attended in the Map Room of the White House included
discussions about raising hard money, the vice president said he did not
recall such conversations or the memos. Previously undisclosed
documents show that former White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta
told FBI agents that he remembered Gore ‘attentively listening’ to
discussions about the hard money aspects of the media fund and ‘walking
through the papers’ as the November 1995 meeting progressed. These
documents also indicate that the task force obtained photographs from
that meeting showing Gore looking at papers that he said he did not
— Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2000