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Focus On Gore: Can He Survive The Heat?

Lawmakers weigh in on possibility Justice will ask for independent counsel


WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Sep. 4) -- Vice President Al Gore waved off questions today about his controversial fund-raising and the news that the Justice Department is looking into whether an independent counsel is needed to investigate it.

Gore high-fived Maryland schoolchildren and promoted President Bill Clinton's call for national school standards, while aides worried about Senate hearings where Buddhist nuns testified about the vice president's visit to their temple last year.


Another worry is the legality of 46 fund-raising calls Gore made from the White House, which has prompted the Justice Department to weigh asking for a special prosecutor.

While Gore was mum, the president came to his defense.

"I believe what he did was legal and the Justice Department has to make its own determination, which I am confident it will do, under the law," Clinton told reporters.

Capitol Hill Democrats were similarly sunny on the matter.


"The whole purpose of an independent counsel is to depoliticize the process and I don't think it serves the purpose to have politicians, senators and congressmen, interject themselves into this process," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said. "This is a decision by the attorney general. At some point she will make that decision and I will support it."

But Republicans took Reno's action to mean serious business.

Said GOP Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania: "I think that they pretty well know that this has to lead to an independent counsel being appointed when they work through the process."

House Republicans send a letter to Reno


And House Republicans, led by Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, sent a 24-page letter to Reno demanding an independent counsel.

"We are convinced that sufficient specific and credible evidence exists to warrant a preliminary investigation under the [independent counsel] statute," they wrote.

Meanwhile, as the Senate hearings unfold and the Justice Department mulls asking for an independent counsel, Gore's presidential ambitions hang in the balance.

Critics like GOP chairman Jim Nicholson says Gore is already damaged goods.

"It was clearly illegal to do what he did," Nicholson said.

Most Democrats see no major damage yet, at least among party loyalists. One poll late last month showed Gore with 53 percent support among Democratic voters, while no potential rival hit double digits.

Gore's business-as-usual dealing with this unwelcome spotlight includes a Friday trip to New Hampshire, site of the first presidential primary. But he is well aware his standing there in campaign 2000 will depend on how he emerges from the tough scrutiny of the weeks ahead.

CNN's John King contributed to this report.

In Other News:

Thursday Sept. 4, 1997

Buddhist Nuns Admit Destroying Documents
Supreme Court Keeps Prop 209 In Force
Focus On Gore: Can He Survive The Heat?
Arizonans Rocked By Symington Verdict
Miami Voters Decide City's Fate
Congress To Dedicate Saturday To Diana

E-mail From Washington:
Reagan Also Made Fund-Raising Calls From White House
Congressional Dems Vow Slowdown

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