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Jewish World Review July 10, 2000 / 7 Tamuz, 5760

Roger Simon

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The truth about AlGore is beginning to spread --- even in the Times -- IT MAY BE, as an Al Gore spokesman says, that the renewed interest in Gore's past fund-raising activities "isn't news; this is archeology."

"And it has no relevance," Jim Kennedy goes on to say, "to the kind of issues that the vice president is working on and the American people care about."

He may be correct about that, too.

But a recent article in The New York Times brought out one of those little nuggets that I find irresistible:

When Gore was being interviewed this April by federal investigators looking into his activities, he told them, "I've been vice president for seven years and two months and 28 days." Before that, Gore said, he had been a U.S. senator "for eight years and 18 days."

Quite a memory, wouldn't you say?

But when Gore was asked in that same interview how many White House coffees he had attended, he said he thought he had attended only one.

Documents show he attended 23.

Now how does a razor-sharp mind make a mistake like that?

Which is exactly what prosecutors asked themselves when it came time to recommend that Gore be investigated by a special counsel, a decision Attorney General Janet Reno has yet to make.

The investigators were looking into Gore's now-famous appearance at a luncheon in a Buddhist temple, his fund-raising calls from his White House office and those coffees.

The coffees, about which Gore was so forgetful, should have stuck in his mind.

From November 1995 to August 1996 the White House held 103 coffees, after which guests contributed $26.4 million to the Democrats. Even in modern politics, $26.4 million is not something easily forgotten.

Too late, AlGore

Before these stories broke, Gore had a Boy Scout image. He brought balance to the Clinton/Gore ticket: He had no bimbo eruptions, questionable land deals or draft evasions in his past.

But when the public learned that Gore had been sitting in the White House making phone calls and putting the arm on campaign contributors for large amounts of money it, at the very least, created an image problem for him.

Americans expect their Boy Scouts to help little old ladies across the street, not mug them for their spare change.

And while Bill Clinton admitted that "mistakes were made" when it came to raising funds for the Democratic Party, Al Gore would not go even that far.

As regards his personal fund raising, no mistakes were made whatsoever, Gore said. Though he promised not to make any more of them in the future. Gore was in a pickle. So he took the honorable way out: He blamed everything on his lawyer.

As if he were holding up a cross in front of vampires, Gore went before reporters in the White House briefing room and seven times said that his lawyer had informed him that "no controlling legal authority" had said any of his telephone activities violated the law.

But Gore had learned the price of eating lunch with Bill Clinton once a week: You can get stuck doing the dirty dishes.

Clinton felt that calling up rich donors and asking them for money was beneath his dignity. But he did not feel it was beneath Al Gore 's dignity.

According to The Post's Bob Woodward, Clinton told campaign and party officials in 1995, "You guys are the fund-raisers. I'm not going to make calls to do your job."

Right. That's why G-d made vice presidents.

Not that Gore liked what he was doing. He must have hated punching all those credit card numbers into the phone (if a federal employee had entered the numbers for him, I assume that would have been a violation of the Hatch Act) and making his pitch.

"I've been tasked with raising $2 million by the end of the week, and you're on my list," he would say.

Gore's associates claim he only made such calls with "bamboo under the fingernails." About 50 times. Which suggests something akin to masochism.

Janet Reno found those calls were legal because they were raising "soft money" and Gore now denies knowing that some of the money was going to be funnelled into hard-money activities.

Regardless, the calls failed the smell test for a reason made perfectly clear by one of Gore's own staff members in an interview during the 1996 presidential campaign.

"He can move markets with a few comments," the staffer told The Post, because Gore plays the key role in administration decisions on such things as technology and telecommunications.

Exactly. And if you were heading a company in one of those industries, for instance, and you picked up the phone and Al Gore was on the line saying "you're on my list," what would you do?

Why didn't Gore see his phone calls for the plain conflict of interest they were?

Well, one must never forget the most popular rule in Washington, the Staszak Rule.

Joe Staszak was a Baltimore tavern owner and state senator who assiduously sponsored legislation that would help the liquor business.

When asked if one such bill constituted a conflict of interest, Staszak replied: "How does this conflict with my interest?"

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