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CAMPAIGN 2000

Reports of Gore Inquiry Prove False

September 23, 2000|From a Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Vice President Al Gore was pummeled by Texas Gov. George W. Bush on the campaign trail last week concerning media reports saying that the Justice Department is investigating Gore's links to wealthy Texas contributors and whether there was a quid pro quo for a presidential veto.

There was only one problem: As Atty. Gen. Janet Reno confirmed Friday, the reports of an inquiry are not true. Asked whether there is in fact an investigation, Reno told reporters: "I understand that there is not."

Breaking her usual silence on such matters, Reno said: "My understanding is that the issue came up, [Justice Department officials] looked at it, didn't see a basis for proceeding."

Although Reno said she did not know when the Gore issue "came up," an aide said later that it was two or three weeks ago during a single, short discussion involving members of the Justice Department's campaign finance task force. The issue, which first surfaced several years ago, was quickly dismissed, the aide said.

That was at least a week before various media outlets began reporting on Sept. 13 that the Justice Department had opened a preliminary investigation into the matter, focusing on a 1995 memo from a Democratic Party aide that purportedly linked a presidential veto on tort reform to a solicitation for a $100,000 contribution from a prominent Texas trial lawyer. Bush pounced on the issue on the campaign trail, saying that the revelations drove home the climate of "investigations and scandal" infecting the White House.

Several media organizations, including The Times, reported in recent days that there was no new investigation in the campaign finance matter. But Reno had refused to talk about it until Friday, when she surprised her own aides by breaking with her policy of not commenting about investigative matters.

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