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Al Gore pleads iced-tea defense

Vice President Al Gore changed his answers during FBI interviews when
confronted with documents in a fund-raising investigation and suggested
he may have missed part of a meeting in which campaign-finance issues may
have been discussed because he drank too much iced tea, FBI documents show.

The Republican National Committee’s research division circulated this
week a three-page e-mail entitled, “Did Al Gore Mislead the FBI?” The RNC
focused on portions of FBI interview summaries released two months ago by
Congress which indicate Gore may have lied during FBI investigations of
illegal fund-raising tactics.

Gore has tried to neutralize his role in the fund-raising controversy of
1996 by saying he made a mistake in phoning prospective donors from the
White House during the Clinton-Gore re-election effort. But political
opponents from Bill Bradley to the Republican Party are raising a more
fundamental question: whether the vice president tells the truth.

One FBI summary of a 1997 interview with the presidential hopeful said,
“Discussions of the fund-raising calls for [Gore] and the President would
not have been discussed” at a key 1995 meeting.

The summary added that “the issue of the Vice President and the President
making fund-raising calls would have probably been referred to in the
November 21 (1995) meeting, but probably only in passing.”

Gore also said, “the number of telephone calls to be made by the
President and Vice President was never discussed with him and he doubts that
the issue was ever discussed with the President,” the FBI summary added. “At
the November 21 meeting, the topic of discussion was probably the DNC budget
outlook and discussions regarding the potential sources of income.”

However, 10 months after the 1997 interview, handwritten notes
purportedly written by Gore aide Davis Strauss turned up which appeared to
quote the vice president as talking about fund-raising phone calls at the

Gore’s initial denials to the FBI gave way to other explanations in a
subsequent interview. Gore now asserts he was probably in the bathroom when
the president and political aides discussed the sensitive topic of
fund-raising phone calls, FBI documents show.

In the later FBI interview, Gore said 23 times that he was unable to
recall aspects of the Nov. 21, 1995, meeting and other fund-raising issues
brought up by the FBI.

One handwritten note from the Nov. 21 meeting states, “VP: ‘Is it
possible to do a reallocation for me to take more of the events and the

The note records the vice president as agreeing to make 10 calls.

Another note states, “VP: ‘Count me in on the calls.'”

Gore “did not specifically recall the (reallocation) quote, seemingly
attributed to him,” said the FBI summary. “He offered that … it sounds
like the kind of thing he would have said. … He felt it was the role of
the Vice President to take the load off the President. … He also could not
recall” the count-me-in “quote on that page, also seemingly attributed to

Trying to explain other parts of the meeting he said he didn’t recall,
Gore told the FBI that he normally sits next to the president in such
meetings and that the two sometimes consult while the meeting is going on,
thereby missing the surrounding discussion.

“The Vice President also observed that he drank a lot of iced tea during
meetings, which could have necessitated a restroom break,” the FBI summary
stated. “It was not uncommon for him, and for that matter the President, to
excuse themselves from meetings to use the restroom.”

The Gore camp apparently blames Republicans for the vice president’s
revised answers being interpreted as suspicious.

“The Republican Party has no agenda, they have no vision and they have no
message,” said Gore press secretary Chris Lehane. “The only thing they can
do is focus on discredited charges from the past and they do that at their
own peril.

“Voters have showed time and time again that they reject that approach in
favor of candidates who talk about the voters’ future,” Lehane added.

But scandal-weary voters may not look favorably on a future that includes
Clinton’s second-in-command who may have adopted the president’s
truth-dodging tactics.