Attorney General Janet Reno probably won't name a special counsel to look into the fundraising tactics of Vice President Gore, which Robert J. Conrad Jr., the head of a Justice Department task force, has recommended. Why should she? Stonewaller Reno refused the earlier importunings of Charles LaBella, who investigated the same improprieties under the independent-counsel law (now expired). She seems determined not to follow the advice of two respected attorneys who think that Mr. Gore lied when he claimed to have been ignorant of his own fundraising behavior at the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple in California and at numerous "coffees" attended by big Democratic donors in 1996. Like his boss, Mr. Gore claims no money changed hands at the coffees, but there was the expectation, emphasized during follow-up contacts with people attending the events, that a contribution was expected. The money quickly flowed more generously than the coffee did. We already know about the laundered temple money, which was returned when the gifts became public. The vice president abides by Clinton rules for responding to charges of ethical and legal violations: deny, delay, deceive and, if there are documents around (missing e-mails?), destroy. His staff will now overwhelm the public with information, hoping that eyes will glaze over and interest subside. Mr. Gore's people have already dumped a 150-page transcript of his interview, conducted under oath, with Mr. Conrad. Gore spokesman Chris Lehane showed he can play the Clinton game. He accused Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) of "dirty tricks and political skullduggery" for speaking publicly about Mr. Conrad's request for a special counsel. Sen. Specter chairs the Senate subcommittee that has been investigating the Justice Department's handling of Gore fund-raising tactics (only in the Clinton administration does one find an investigation of an investigation), so one might expect him to comment. But the way it works with Clinton-Gore is that you throw mud at your accuser so people are less likely to pay attention to the grime on you. The guilty expose themselves by their verbal contortions to circumvent the truth. In the transcript of Mr. Gore's testimony, the vice president resembles his boss, who debated the meaning of the word "is" when answering questions about Monica Lewinsky. Mr. Conrad: "With respect to raising ... $108 million, did you have discussions with anybody concerning the role coffees would play in raising that type of money?" Mr. Gore: "Well, let me define the term 'raising,' if I could, because if you mean by it, would they be events at which money was raised, the answer is no." Mr. Conrad: "There simply was no quid pro quo of attendance at a coffee, payment to follow?" Mr. Gore: "That is absolutely my impression." The tooth fairy, Santa Claus, and a moon made of green cheese are more believable than Gore's veracity. The president's own handwritten instructions to his staff in 1996 urged them to get all the money they could. Any controlling legal authority was to be ignored. Mr. Gore testified he couldn't remember meeting with the president during the 1996 campaign about aggressive fundraising tactics. Mr. Conrad then confronted him with talking points prepared in advance of a meeting between the vice president and Mr. Clinton: "Tipper and I were supposed to do $1.1 million, and it looks like we will be closer to $1.3 million. So we can raise the money-BUT ONLY IF-the president and I actually do the events, the calls, the coffees, etc." (emphasis in the transcript). Mr. Gore told Mr. Conrad and the FBI he didn't recall meeting with the president. How credible is that, given the almost nonstop lust for campaign cash in 1996 because of fear associated with the Republican takeover of Congress two years earlier? Having failed to hold the White House accountable and repeatedly saving the skin of Clinton and Gore, Janet Reno will close out her tenure doing nothing at all about this latest request from within her own department. So it will be up to the voters-and they have a way to mete out justice that requires no one's permission or counsel.
-© 2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate