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CAMPAIGN 2000

Cheney Talks of Alternative Fuel; Staff Responds to Fraud Probe Queries

Politics: His camp raises questions about timing of federal inquiry of Halliburton unit. Gore campaign denies any prior knowledge of investigation.

October 25, 2000|ERIC LICHTBLAU and MEGAN GARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

JUNCTION CITY, Ore. — Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney visited a motor home factory here Tuesday as his campaign aides sought to deflect allegations that his former company defrauded the government out of millions of dollars.

Accusing the Clinton administration of playing politics with a federal grand jury, a Cheney spokeswoman questioned the timing of the criminal investigation into possible financial wrongdoing by Brown & Root, a Texas-based engineering firm overseen by Cheney until July.

"The timing is suspicious, particularly so given the Clinton-Gore administration's proclivity to manipulate the justice system for its own political well-being," said Juleanna Glover Weiss, a spokeswoman for Cheney.

She said the allegations will prove to be a nonissue in the presidential election.

"The Gore campaign is doing its best to pique interest, but the voters will take this with a grain of salt," Glover Weiss said.

Federal officials declined to comment on the investigation into Brown & Root's role as a primary contractor in the closure of the Ft. Ord military base near Monterey, Calif. Vice President Al Gore's camp denied that politics had anything to do with the timing, saying it had no knowledge of the grand jury investigation until Tuesday.

"The sum total of what we know has been reported by the press," said Mark D. Fabiani, Gore's deputy campaign manager. He called on Cheney to address the allegations personally rather than let his aides speak for him.

"Mr. Cheney should hold a press conference to answer questions about his company's alleged rip-off of taxpayers," Fabiani said. "People deserve to know the facts from Mr. Cheney's own mouth before the election."

Brown & Root is a subsidiary of Halliburton Co., the oil services giant that Cheney headed from 1995 until July, when he stepped down with a $34-million early retirement package to become Texas Gov. George W. Bush's running mate.

A whistle-blower who worked as a contracts manager at Brown & Root and who is now suing the firm alleges that Brown & Root fraudulently overbilled the U.S. government by up to $6 million from 1995 to 1997, during the conversion of Ft. Ord to government and civilian uses.

Dammen Gant Campbell, the former employee, alleges that the company devised a fraudulent scheme to bill the military for goods and services and then substituted cheaper products. Campbell has been subpoenaed to appear before a Northern California grand jury.

Brown & Root, which also has been subpoenaed to produce documents for the grand jury, denies any wrongdoing and says it will cooperate with the investigation. It acknowledged the grand jury probe in a statement to investors Monday. No evidence has emerged linking Cheney directly to any of the fraud allegations.

Cheney, on the campaign trail in the Pacific Northwest, kept his public focus on Gore. After a demonstration in Spokane on the potential of hydrogen-driven fuel cells as an alternative energy source--an issue taken from the Gore campaign book--Cheney continued his attacks on the vice president.

Cheney hit at Gore's shifting public persona, saying he felt Bush confronted three different individuals in the presidential debates.

He also attacked Gore's credibility on military matters, charging that the vice president's dealings with former Russian Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin were "clearly not in the interest" of America.

*

Lichtblau reported from Washington, D.C., and Garvey reported from the Cheney campaign trail in Junction City.

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