Gore Fights Words With Paper

People watch the strong waves produced by Tropical Storm Ernesto in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Saturday, Aug. 26, 2006.
AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa
After potentially damaging leaks about the Justice Department's investigation into his past campaign fundraising practices, Vice President Al Gore Friday released the official transcript of his sworn testimony.
On the campaign trail aboard Air Force II, Gore scrambled to downplay questions about his fundraising tactics from the last election.

"I have told the truth," the presumed Democratic presidential candidate said Friday. "I have co-operated fully and I don't want people to have the impression that I'm trying to hiding something here. I am not. I want you to see it all."

Sources close to the investigation told CBS News that potentially false statements about a visit to a Buddhist temple function in California and White House coffees made by Gore during an April interview with Justice Department prosecutors led to the recommendation of an outside counsel.

The vice president has always denied that he knew he was attending a fundraiser at the Buddhist temple.

CBS News Correspondent John Roberts reports Gore raced to defuse the potential for damage in this election year, ordering the release Friday of an entire 150-page transcript and pointed out that news leaks about the recommendation came from Republicans.

Democratic sources pointed out that the investigator who made the recommendation—Robert Conrad—was appointed assistant U.S. attorney in 1989 by a man with ties to Republican Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina. And in 1996, Conrad contributed to Helms' election campaign. The vice president questioned the timing of it all.
"Here we are four months before a national election that takes place every four years …and you can read into that what you want to," Gore said.

Gore contended the interview was co-operative and professional. But the transcript revealed some sharp exchanges.

Asked about the Buddhist temple fundraiser, Gore told investigators, "I sure as hell did not have any conversations with anyone saying this is a fundraising event."

This is the fourth time investigators have recommended the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Gore. Three times, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno has turned down the request.

First, there was Charles LaBella, the former head of the campaign finance task force handpicked by Reno, who wrote a memo calling for Reno to name an outside counsel.

Then, FBI Director Louis Freeh wrote a memo calling for an outside prosecutor for Gore, saying Reno faced an "irrevocable political conflict of interest" in investigating the alleged abuses.

And most recently, it was disclosed that a former top official to Reno, Robert Litt, had advised Reno she had no choice but to request an independent counsel.

LaBella, the former task force director, said again Friday that an independent probe was needed.

"A thorough investigation is needed so this can finally be laid to rest and the wounds can begin to heal" LaBella said.

Conrad, who interviewed Gore and President Clinton in April, signaled activity in the investigation on Wednesday when he declined to answer a senator's questions about the vice president and the president. Officials said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., recently learned about Conrad's recommendation.

"I have reason to believe that Mr. Conrad has made a recommendation that an independent counsel be appointed as to matters related to Vice President Gore," said Specter in a telephone interview Thursday.

Specter said Thursday that Reno "has done a great disservice to Vice President Gore, because these matters should have been investigated a long time ago."

The senator said that his hearings into decision-making within the Justice Department on the fund-raising scandal "have been very embarrassing to the Department of Justice" in that "they did not proceed with an independent counsel as to the vice president a long time ago."

Sources familiar with the case believe it's unlikely that an independent investigation would bring criminal charges against Gore. But after the tribulations of the Clinton administration, political analysts say, the two words the American public does not want associated with its next president are "special prosecutor."