March 3, 1997
In response to weekend news reports which said he was one of the campaign's most active fund-raisers, Vice President Gore said he did nothing illegal or wrong when he solicited funds for the 1996 presidential campaigns. Margaret Warner gets reaction to the Vice President's remarks and an update on prospects for a congressional probe into campaign fund-raising practices.
JIM LEHRER: The campaign finance story is first tonight. We begin with excerpts from Vice President Gore's news conference at the White House this afternoon.
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: First of all, I want to spell out the facts of my role in the campaign. First of all, to state the obvious, I was a candidate for re-election in the campaign. I worked very hard for the re-election of President Clinton and myself. I'm very proud that I was able to be effective in helping to re-elect President Clinton. And I was very proud that I was able to also in--as part of that effort to help raise campaign funds. Everything that I did I understood to be lawful. I attended campaign--traditional campaign fund-raising events as a principal speaker in many locations all around the country. The vast majority of the campaign funds that I've been credit for raising came in that form. I also made telephone calls to ask people to host events and to ask people to make lawful contributions to the campaign. On a few occasions I made some telephone calls from my office in the White House using a DNC credit card. I was advised there was nothing wrong with that practice.
My counsel advises me that there is no controlling legal authority or case that says that there was any violation of law whatsoever in the manner in which I asked people to contribute to our re-election campaign. I have decided to adopt a policy of not making any such calls ever again, notwithstanding the fact that they are charged to the Democratic National Committee as a matter of policy. We're continuing our review of this matter, and I think the entire episode constitutes further reasons why there should be campaign finance reform. The President and I strongly support campaign finance reform, and we hope it is adopted.
JIM LEHRER: Now to more on the story and to Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, reaction to the Vice President's remarks and an update on prospects for a congressional probe into campaign fund-raising practices. We turn to two Senators, both members of the Governmental Affairs Committee, whose chairman, Republican Fred Thompson, has proposed holding hearings on campaign fund-raising; Republican Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi; and Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan. Welcome, gentlemen. Sen. Cochran, your reaction to what we just heard the Vice President saying. He did nothing illegal or wrong.
SEN. THAD COCHRAN, (R) Mississippi: Well, I think this indicates again why it's important for the attorney general to seek the appointment of an independent counsel. Obviously, she would have a political conflict of interest supervising the investigation that has already begun. I understand there are some 25 FBI agents, a number of lawyers in the public integrity section of the Department of Justice, already engaged in evaluations of--in evaluation of these activities at the White House by the President and now the Vice President. But she can't supervise this investigation, it seems to me, under the terms of current law and ought to ask for the appointment of an independent counsel. That's the answer, not campaign finance reform, when you know whether laws have been violated and whether or not highly placed officials in the administration should be charged.
MARGARET WARNER: So, in other words, you're saying that despite what the Vice President says, you want someone else to look into whether it was illegal?
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: Right. The answer to these inquiries is not the passage of a campaign finance reform bill. It's the appointment of an independent counsel and an inquiry by the Congress as to whether or not there has been abuse in the use of the White House or other federal properties in raising funds for the President's campaign. And if these things aren't against the law, in my view, they ought to be.
MARGARET WARNER: Your reaction.
SEN. CARL LEVIN, (D) Michigan: We need both investigation as to prior practices, perfectly legitimate. It's got to be done on a bipartisan basis. Congressional hearings are appropriate on a bipartisan basis, looking both at presidential fund-raising and at congressional fund-raising. Congress shouldn't be left off the hook, and even though there may not be anything new about the President or Vice President doing fund-raising in the way it's been done--and it is not new--here's an invitation to Vice President Quayle's house for people who contribute money. Here's "the" invitation right in front of me to the Vice President's mansion if you contribute a certain number of thousands of dollars to the Republican inner circle. It's not new, but the American people have a right to expect more, and the only way we're going to put a stop to the emphasis on money and the amount of money is by putting limits on how much you can raise and how much you can spend in these campaigns. The loopholes have taken over. There are no effective limits. Campaign finance reform is essential.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. But let me ask you to focus, if you would, on the situation involving Vice President Gore. Do you agree with him that there was nothing wrong or improper with making telephone calls, a sitting Vice President, to raise money?
SEN. CARL LEVIN: He has said he has a legal opinion that there's nothing wrong or improper about it, and I rely on that. It's not new, as I indicated. There was fund-raising done at the Vice President's house in exchange for a contribution. This was a quid pro quo when it was done by the Republican inner circle. Give us X thousands of dollars, and then it says no other organization offers you the opportunity to meet the Vice President and his wife at their home.
MARGARET WARNER: And this is a letter from--
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Now this is with Quayle. This is from the inner circle and the chairman of the inner circle at that time in 1990. So this is not--this is not particularly new. This is a Republican--
MARGARET WARNER: Let me let Sen. Cochran back in here.
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: I think what we're missing here is the fact that the Vice President points out that he's advised by counsel. His counsel is somebody who works for him, is employed by him. What we need in this situation I think very clearly is someone who's independent from the influences of the President and the Vice President. Even the attorney general was hired by the President and appointed by him and apparently is reappointed by him now. The point is there has to be some independent evaluation of this. I'm not prepared to judge whether this is a violation of the law or not, but somebody who's competent and experienced and who's well respected ought to be asked to evaluate it.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Address that one point, if you would, Sen. Levin, whether at this point this latest allegation means that it's time for Attorney General Reno to appoint--ask for the appointment of an independent counsel.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: We created that law to appoint independent people where there is evidence from an independent, credible source that a crime has been committed by a certain named official, and if people have evidence of that, a crime by the President, Vice President, member of their family, cabinet officers, then an independent counsel should be picked, but until there is that specific information of a crime having been committed, the law does not provide for an independent counsel, and the law should be followed. And I have great confidence in the attorney general that she will follow the law because she has shown no reluctance whatsoever, no hesitation to pick independent counsel before.
If I could get back to this one other point in terms of the use of the White House, here from the Eagles, the Republican National Committee Eagles, that says in the long and proud history of the program Eagles have often been guests of Republican Presidents at formal White House receptions and dinners. If you contribute $5,000 to the Eagles, you're guaranteed that. Here's the--
MARGARET WARNER: Wait a minute. Let's let Sen. Cochran in.
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: This is not even close to what's been going on in this White House. Over 900 people invited to spend the night there, nobody's ever had that many outside guests coming to spend the night at the White House. And many of them--big time contributors--we need to know when were the contributions made. I'm not suggesting there's a connection, but there is--it seems to me--such a huge number of big contributors who had this privilege we ought to have somebody find out whether there was a connection and who told ‘em that they could come, who invited them. Did the President do this, or did the Democratic National Committee?
It seems to me that the President has the responsibility and is accountable for the use of the White House, and he delegated to the Democratic National Committee the authority to schedule coffees, over a hundred coffees, with key fund-raisers to either encourage them to raise more money or encourage them to do something in behalf of the campaign. And big-time contributors were included in some of these. Photos were taken. Never before has anybody used the White House for that kind of activity. And so that ought to be evaluated by someone who's independent from the influence of the President and the Vice President.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: It ought to be evaluated, and the emphasis on money and the lack of limits on money is what is driving the excess. And we must have campaign finance reform. By the way, here's the Senatorial trust. Send your personal check for $10,000, and check you want to go to a White House reception.
MARGARET WARNER: And this was sent out by whom?
SEN. CARL LEVIN: This was 1990, the Bush campaign. President Reagan in 1984 said 20,000 bucks, personal meeting with President Reagan at the White House. What is new here is the unlimited amount of money which is being raised and spent. And the way to stop it is to restore limits on spending. And that's what this battle is going to be about. Investigation into the activities I think is appropriate. I agree with my good friend, Thad, here on that. It's perfectly appropriate. And I hope it will give us impetus for campaign finance reform.
MARGARET WARNER: All right.
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: I wish he would agree to one other thing, and Carl and I were on this committee that Fred Thompson is chairing, and that is that our committee ought to be permitted to proceed to evaluate these things that he's bringing up tonight that I've heard of for the first time from Carl. But the fact is there is a lot out there, and people are trying to cover it up. I mean, this campaign to stop and block and filibuster the investigation being officially authorized and funded I think is shameful.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let's look at one of the issues that is holding up your committee getting the green light, which has to do with the scope of the investigation. Now, the Republicans, you wanted just to look at the presidential campaign, is that right, and not the congressional?
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: No. Our committee agreed on a scope of the campaign's activities--
MARGARET WARNER: Yes.
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: --that we would look into, including presidential election campaigns, not just Clinton's, but the Dole campaign, activities of the RNC and the DNC. We didn't say no to any request that was raised by the Democrats on the committee so the scope was agreed to by our committee.
MARGARET WARNER: But is the Republican leadership--
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: There were a few Republicans who got nervous that it might be used by the Democrats to cloud the issues, the real abuses of the illegalities might never get investigated, or at least the American people would be confused as to what we were there to do, investigate--
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see--
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: --illegalities--
MARGARET WARNER: Sorry.
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: --or just have a big circus performance, bringing everybody you can into one room and confusing the issue.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think you can come to agreement over the scope of this investigation?
SEN. CARL LEVIN: We already have an agreement on the scope in the committee, but a couple of key Republicans, McConnell, Santorum, and I think the Republican leader, himself, has said they're going to try to limit or may try to limit the scope of this to look only at the presidential race. We should not let Congress off the hook. As far as the membership of the committee, however, Sen. Cochran's absolutely right. We have agreed on the scope, and it's going to include Congress, as well as the President, that it was when those two Republican members of the Rules Committee said they would not vote for the funding unless it was limited to the presidential race, that that created a problem, it could not then go to that committee for the funding. It then has to come to the floor this week, where I hope we work out something on a bipartisan basis.
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: Well, it should be pointed out that all of the Democrats opposed the funding requested by the committee chairman. All the Republicans voted for it. All the Democrats voted against it. It's clear--
MARGARET WARNER: This is over $6 million.
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: It's clear to me--
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Which is twice Iran-Contra, twice the Whitewater, and so I think we can work out the funding.
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: But the--they were enlarging the scope to include everything and then insisting that the funds be cut down to less than $2 million, a recipe for disaster, an incomplete investigation--
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Still more than Iran-Contra and Whitewater.
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: I'm convinced that this investigation ought to go forward. And the Democrats ought to join with us to try to get approval from the full Senate for the funds we need to do the job right.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Very briefly, Sen. Daschle, the Democratic leader of the Senate, is saying, though, no vote on this unless he gets a date for a vote on campaign finance reform.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Right. We want a date to vote on campaign finance reform. That is the heart of this issue, is to restore limits to how much can be raised and spent, and what some people say is, well, you can offer that any time as an amendment. That's true. But unless you have a date set in advance you can't focus public attention on the debate, which is what we must do.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that a deal breaker?
SEN. CARL LEVIN: It's absolutely critical that we have an agreement and if this is just a red herring, then let's just set the date.
MARGARET WARNER: Are they going to get that agreement? Are the Republicans going to get it?
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: This is an issue that's been debated for years. We had hearings all last year in the Rules Committee on this issue. There's no consensus for how to reform the campaign finance laws. I'm in favor of reforms. I think we need more disclosure. We need to make some things that we've heard about already against the law if they're not already. So there are opportunities to work toward campaign finance reform. But to hold that hostage and say we've got to vote on somebody's plan--which would be the Democrats' bill, I'm sure--and in exchange for just getting the investigations started on these known abuses--
MARGARET WARNER: All right, gentlemen.
SEN. CARL LEVIN: Just a date. All we want's a date to debate.
MARGARET WARNER: Thank you. We've got leave it there. Thank you very much.