Money Trail Opener

Chronology: Money In Politics

Coffee With The President

Where The Money Was Spent

Was There A Payback?

The Investigations

The White House Defense

Does Everybody Do It?

Running For Dollars

Campaign Law Loopholes

Campaign Sweets

An Experiment In Cincinnati

Is Money Speech?

Poll: Most Say Clinton Acted Illegally Or Unethically

Roadblocks To Reform

Key Terms

Index of VXtreme Video-On-Demand

Related Stories

Let's Go To The Videotape (TIME, 10/13/97)

Campaign-Finance Fight Cools Friendships (CQ, 9/29/97)

In Focus:

Campaign Reform

Gavel To Gavel

Gavel To Gavel: AllPolitics' Campaign Fund-Raising Special Report

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Campaign Finance Reform

Senate Hearings On Campaign Finance Reform

Is It Time To Impeach Reno?




Mike Luckovich: Gingrich And Lott In The Finance Muck

Bill Mitchell: Janet Reno's Tempest

Bob Lang: Dems Cash and Carey?

The Money Trail: Democracy For Sale

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:

  • Denials that the president and the vice president made illegal fund-raising phone calls from the White House which could trigger appointment of an independent counsel.

    "I am absolutely certain that we believed we were acting within the letter of the law," Clinton said late last month in New York.

  • Denials that they sold White House access to fat-cat contributors, including the famous coffees, dinners and overnight stays in the Lincoln Bedroom.

    Said Clinton: "I believe what the vice president did and what I did was legal." Said Gore: "Everything I did I understood to be lawful." (194K wav sound)

  • Denials that the Chinese government laundered money into U.S. presidential and congressional campaigns in order to gain influence. The president says he wants the charges fully investigated.

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.

gore and clinton

"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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