Let's Go To The Videotape (TIME, 10/13/97)
Campaign-Finance Fight Cools Friendships (CQ, 9/29/97)
Gavel To Gavel: AllPolitics' Campaign Fund-Raising Special Report
White House Plays Defense
Every morning, aides gather for a 'damage control meeting'
By Wolf Blitzer/CNN
WASHINGTON (Oct. 7) -- It's 8:30 in the morning and senior White House aides are gathered behind closed doors. Among those attending are White House Special Counsel Lanny Davis, senior advisers Paul Begala and Rahm Emanuel, and the vice president's communications director, Lorraine Voles.
Some administration aides now fear the inexplicable failure to produce just-released videotapes will finally convince Attorney General Janet Reno to call for an independent counsel. And with that, the investigation would continue for years, putting a cloud over Bill Clinton's presidency and Vice President Al Gore's ambition to succeed him.
All are poised to put out the latest fires. It's the daily damage control meeting, originally formed to combat allegations about Whitewater, the travel office firings and Paula Jones. Now it's trying to put out the flames enveloping campaign fund-raising activities.
For nearly a year, the White House strategy has been to publicly deny any wrongdoing, deny even with humor.
"This isn't a fund-raiser, is it?" Gore asked at one recent event.
The vice president, embarrassed by his participation in a Buddhist temple fund-raiser last year, now jokes about it. But it's no joking matter. He's now hired two high-priced private attorneys, both former Watergate prosecutors. He's also considering bringing in his own damage control expert.
CNN has obtained an audio tape of Gore's speech at the Buddhist temple. He doesn't ask for money but does thank the group for its support and pays tribute to two key fund-raisers now under criminal investigation.
"It was a pleasure to receive you in the White House recently, and our mutual friends Maria Hsia and John and Jane Huang and others who have been such wonderful friends to me," Gore told the temple master and the temple audience.
As the allegations mount, so do the denials:
It is a strategy to make the administration appear to be open and cooperative. Moreover, with the prospect of another independent counsel looming larger, the president's aides are on the offensive.
"Are we really talking about an independent counsel because the president or the vice president of the United States chooses to make a call from one side of the street rather than crossing the street to a telephone booth?" Davis has asked.
The new White House offense means putting the Republicans on the defense. How? By insisting problems wouldn't exist if it weren't for Republican opposition to campaign finance reform, something Democratic pollsters say is a winning issue with the American public.
Gore wants to be president. Clinton is concerned about his legacy. The president's chief of staff has made it clear they are all in it together for now. But their interests in the future may not always coincide.
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