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Jewish World Review June 30, 2000 / 27 Sivan, 5760

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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Consumer Reports

GOPers should be careful what they wish for -- REPUBLICANS should be careful what they wish for when it comes to appointing a special counsel to investigate Al Gore. Last week, word leaked that yet another Justice Department official has recommended that Attorney General Janet Reno appoint a special counsel to investigate Gore's involvement in illegal and questionable fund-raising activities.

Robert J. Conrad, a career prosecutor who currently heads the Justice Department investigation of the 1996 Clinton-Gore presidential campaign, is now the fourth high-ranking official to do so. FBI Director Louis Freeh has also recommended that Reno appoint an outside counsel, as did Charles G. LaBella, Conrad's predecessor at Justice, and Robert S. Litt, a political appointee at the department.

There is no question that Gore's activities in raising funds at a Buddhist Temple in 1996 deserve more scrutiny -- after all, longtime Gore associate Maria Hsia has already been convicted of a felony for her role in the event. And it is certain that Reno's highly politicized Justice Department is incapable of conducting an impartial investigation of Gore's actions. But the appointment of an outside counsel to head an investigation during the height of the presidential campaign is problematic and could end up hurting Republicans as much as Gore himself.

After nearly eight years of nonstop scandals and investigations of the current administration, the public wants to be done with it. The best way for this to happen is for the electorate to sweep the place clean, sending Al Gore, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and the whole rotten crew into early retirement. Polls suggest that both Al Gore's and Hillary Clinton's electoral ambitions are already being stymied by this widespread sentiment. So why not let politics take its course? The one thing that could upset Americans more than having to put up with these folks one day past Jan. 21, 2001, is the prospect of a Republican-controlled Congress pressing for endless investigations and hearings.

It would be one thing if these investigations were likely to return indictments. They aren't. As the recently concluded investigation into Hillary Clinton's role in the Travelgate firings proves, evidence that someone lied to investigators isn't enough to guarantee prosecution, even when the lies occurred under oath. Independent counsel Robert W. Ray, who investigated the first lady, says there is evidence Mrs. Clinton lied to investigators and perhaps the grand jury when she denied any involvement in the White House travel office firings in 1993.

But Ray has declined to prosecute her because he doesn't believe he could win a conviction based on the evidence he has. The same holds for the prosecution of the president, who, we all know, lied under oath in the Paula Jones case and before the grand jury. And the rule probably applies to Gore, as well.

While people may say that public officials should be held to a higher standard, in fact the public is loathe to see a first lady, a president or a vice president prosecuted unless there is incontrovertible proof that they have committed serious crimes. Gore may well have lied to investigators not only about the Buddhist Temple fund-raiser but about the fund-raising phone calls he made from his White House office in 1996 and about the 21 White House fund-raising "coffees" he hosted or several others the president hosted and he attended. But there's no indication the public wants to see the vice president indicted for these transgressions and almost no chance that a Washington jury would convict him if he were indicted.

But perhaps the most compelling case against the appointment of an outside counsel to investigate these matters is that it would likely remove the issue from public debate and judgment, which is where it belongs. Once an outside counsel is appointed, Gore could get away with stonewalling questioners by saying it would be improper for him to comment on an ongoing investigation. Evidence could only dribble out through leaks, which Gore would try to turn to his advantage.

If Al Gore truly has nothing to hide, he'll press the Justice Department to release all documents related to this investigation -- including every internal memo calling for appointment of a special counsel. Since this isn't likely to happen, the press should play its traditional role in ferreting out and publishing information. Voters must play their role, too. In the final analysis, they are the jurors in this case, and Nov. 7 is judgment day.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate