FBI Memo Rips Gore Probe

Bill Murray, smiles as he poses during a photo call for his film"Broken Flowers", directed by Jim Jarmusch of the U.S.A., shown in competition at the 58th international Cannes film festival in Cannes, southern France, Tuesday May 17, 2005.
AP
In a memo kept secret for two-and-a-half years, FBI Director Louis Freeh warned that the Justice Department was ignoring "reliable evidence" that conflicted with Al Gore's accounts of his fund-raising activities.

Freeh sent the November 1997 memo, written by staff at his request, to Attorney General Janet Reno to urge appointment of an independent counsel to investigate Democratic fund raising.

"In the face of compelling evidence that the vice president was a very active, sophisticated fund-raiser who knew exactly what he was doing, his own exculpatory statements must not be given undue weight," the Freeh memo said.

It preceded a better-known, and more scrutinized, memo by the chief prosecutor in the case, Charles LaBella, who urged the same action and also accused his Justice Department superiors of contorting their investigation to avoid triggering an independent counsel.

The memos were released by a House committee Tuesday as Republicans in both chambers of Congress examined why a special prosecutor was never appointed.

"Can you blame the American people or many in Congress for being cynical?" House Government Reform Committee chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., asked after reading from the memos.

The FBI director said the Justice Department's preoccupation with bit players should be replaced by a top-down investigation starting with President Clinton and a "core group" of aides under the theory that "most of the alleged campaign abuses flowed directly or indirectly from the all-out efforts by the White House and DNC (Democratic National Committee) to raise money."

Freeh's memo focused in part on fund-raising phone calls Gore made from his government office. The vice president denied that he intended to raise "hard money," which is regulated by federal laws prohibiting solicitations on federal property.

The director's memo suggested the Justice Department was "relying almost exclusively on the vice president's own statements to draw inferences favorable to him even where those statement are contradicted by other reliable evidence."

"If the attorney general relied primarily" on Gore's "statements to end this investigation, she would be inviting intense and justified criticism," the memo said.

In a memo responding to that allegation, Lee Radek, the chief of the department's public integrity section who dealt with independent counsel issues, said the Justice Department didn't rely solely on Gore's word.

The conclusion that Gore's phone calls were to solicit "soft money," outside the scope of the law, was based on "hundreds of interviews with those who participated in the calls, and the examination of scores of documents," Radek wrote in a memo also released Tuesday. And the law in question is seldom prosecuted, he said.

In his own 94-page memo, prosecutor LaBella complained that his Justice Department superiors were "intellectually dishonst" and practiced "gamesmanship" to avoid an independent counsel investigation of President Clinton's and Gore's 1996
fund-raising.

Radek called those allegations "preposterous."

"The authors' attribution of bad faith to those of us who have disagreed with them on various issues is nothing short of shocking," Radek wrote.

LaBella's memo also said the re-election campaign "was so corrupted by bloated fund raising and questionable `contributions' that the system became a caricature of itself." He wrote the memo on July 16, 1998, as he was preparing to leave as head of the campaign fund-raising task force.

Word of LaBella's memo leaked to the media a week after he wrote it, but Reno resisted demands from congressional Republicans to release it until recently, saying investigative documents should be kept confidential.

LaBella and Freeh argued that the Justice Department had failed to adequately investigate allegations by the government reform group Common Cause that Clinton controlled a Democratic Party advertising campaign and used it illegally to support his re-election.
Those "arguably are the most serious" allegations, Freeh's memo said.

LaBella wrote that the department's handling of the Common Cause allegations "has been marked by gamesmanship rather than an evenhanded analysis." He said Justice officials were "hostile" to the idea of seeking an independent counsel and "had to find a theory upon which we could avoid conducting an investigation."

Radek responded that Reno addressed the Common Cause issue "squarely" and decided the law wasn't broken.