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Vice President Al Gore, March 3, 1997

FDCH

GORE: Good afternoon. Thank you all for coming. Mike was out here a little bit earlier and I noticed you had a number of questions for him about my role in the campaign, so I thought it would be a good idea for me to come down and answer your questions.

I want to make a short opening statement, and then I'll be happy to take your questions.

First of all, I want to spell out the facts of my role in the campaign. First of all, to state the obvious, I was a candidate for re-election in the campaign. I worked very hard for the re-election of President Clinton and myself. I'm very proud that I was able to be effective in helping to re-elect President Clinton. And I was very proud that I was able to also in -- as part of that effort -- to help raise campaign funds.

Everything that I did I understood to be lawful. I attended campaign -- traditional campaign fundraising events as a principal speaker in many locations all around the country. The vast majority of the campaign funds that I've been given credit for raising came in that form.

I also made telephone calls to ask people to host events and to ask people to make lawful contributions to the campaign. On a few occasions, I made some telephone calls from my office in the White House using a DNC credit card. I was advised there was nothing wrong with that practice. The Hatch Act has a specific provision saying that, while federal employees are prohibited from requesting campaign contributions, the president and the vice president are not covered by that act because, obviously, we are candidates.

The separate question of whether or not campaign contributions can be asked for from somebody who is in a federal office or in a room that is used for official business is part of a law that was intended to prohibit putting pressure on federal employees and soliciting from federal employees.

I've never solicited a contribution from any federal employee, nor would I. Nor did I ever ask for a campaign contribution from anyone who was in a government office or on federal property.

Now all of the charges related to telephone calls were made to the Democratic National Committee. There were a few occasions which I made such calls. The first was in December of 1995. As we continue our review of this, we have found the first session in December of 1995. There were a few other sessions during which I made telephone calls in the spring of 1996.

My counsel -- Charles Burson is my counsel here. My counsel advises me that there is no controlling, legal authority or case that says that there was any violation of law whatsoever in the manner in which I asked people to contribute to our re-election campaign.

I have decided to adopt a policy of not making any such calls ever again, notwithstanding the fact that they are charged to the Democratic National Committee as a matter of policy. We're continuing our review of this matter and I think the entire episode constitutes further reasons why there should be campaign finance reform.

The president and I strongly support campaign finance reform, and we hope it is adopted.

GORE: Now...

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President...

GORE: Helen?

QUESTION: ... are you saying that there -- that you never did any fundraising from a government office or building or...

GORE: I never asked for a campaign contribution from anyone who was in a government office. I never did anything that I thought was wrong.

If there had been a shred of doubt in my mind that anything I did was a violation of law, I assure you I would not have done that. And my counsel advises me, let me repeat, that there is no controlling legal authority that says that any of these activities violated any law.

QUESTION: But the law doesn't...

QUESTION: But the -- there's a memo...

GORE: Let Wolf.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, but given the fact that you now have changed your policy, I'm sure you can understand the appearance, whether or not it was technically legal, the appearance wasn't very good, and that one of these people you apparently solicited told Bob Woodward and The Washington Post that it amounted to, in his opinion, at least, a shakedown -- that when you were soliciting funds from him, given his nature of his business, you were shaking him down.

GORE: Well, I cannot explain to you what some anonymous source wants to say. I can tell you this, that I never, ever said or did anything that would have given rise to a feeling like that on the part of someone who was asked to support our campaign. I never did that, and I never would do that.

QUESTION: There's a memo from the White House counsel written in 1995 that very simply says, no solicitation can be made from the White House -- no phone calls, no mail.

QUESTION: How can you say that that was OK for you to do it?

GORE: That memo, authored by former White House Counsel Ab Mikva, was addressed to White House employees other than the president and vice president. All White House employees, just like all other federal employees, are prohibited from asking for campaign contributions. There is an exemption for the president and vice president.

But that particular memo was not designed to address either the president or the vice president, because there is a different section of law that applies to the president and vice president as candidates, as opposed to the White House staff.

QUESTION: So you're saying that you were exempt from any prescriptions, from raising money right there in the White House. That was OK for you to do?

GORE: That particular -- No, no. No, no. I'd never ask anyone in the White House for a campaign contribution.

QUESTION: You sat in the White House. You called people and asked them for contributions.

GORE: Well, let me -- I stated the facts situation earlier.

And I described it in some detail. I never have asked a federal employee for a contribution, never would, never will. I have never asked anyone in the White House or on federal property for a campaign contribution.

Now -- and all calls that I made were charged to the Democratic National Committee. I was advised there was nothing wrong with that. My counsel tells me there is no controlling legal authority that says was any violation of any law. Yes?

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, excuse me, there was a little discrepancy in the Buddhist temple. Can you clear that up? I mean, because certain statements were made, denied, and then actually accepted?

GORE: Well, that's a separate matter and I've dealt with it, and I don't really want to go back into that now. We can come back to it at the end of this if you want to.

Yes, right here.

QUESTION: You said that there were only a few instances where you did...

GORE: Correct.

QUESTION: ... ask people for money. Could you say why in those instances you did? Were you told that you would make the difference? Or was it for a particular sum? Did someone in the campaign say, "We need you to close this."? Can you explain the circumstances under which you...

GORE: I participated in meetings of our top campaign advisers where it became clear that, in order to achieve the president's goals of getting a balanced budget, passing these measures to protect Medicare and Medicaid and education and the environment and so forth, that the DNC needed a larger budget to put advertisements on television.

And I volunteered to raise -- to help in the effort to raise money for the Democratic National Committee.

Yes.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, I'm confused on one point. I've heard what you said.

GORE: Yes.

QUESTION: And as picayune as it may seem, there seems to be conflict over whether or not you're saying the law allows you, as vice president, to sit in your office and to use a federal phone credit card or not, to make a call to someone outside. You're saying that the law does allow you to be in, basically, federal property and use federal property, although it's being reimbursed to some degree, that that -- that is OK?

GORE: As a matter of policy, I decided that I'm not going to do that. As a matter of law, there is no -- according to my counsel - there is no controlling legal authority, no case ever brought, ever decided that says that is a violation of law.

The intent of the statute -- let me repeat -- was to prevent a supervisor from talking to a federal employee and saying, "We want you to contribute money." I've never done that.

Secondly, I have never asked anyone who was on federal property or in the White House for a campaign contribution.

QUESTION: But you're...

GORE: A follow-up here, and then I'll go to you.

QUESTION: But if you're in the clear on it, then why shift policy, if you're in the clear on that?

GORE: Well, because it's aroused a great deal of concern and comment, and it's not -- it's not something that I want to continue if it's going to raise this kind of concern.

Yes.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, are you basically then admitting that you made a mistake or made mistakes?

GORE: No.

What I am saying -- I mean implicit in the decision to change the policy and say I'm not going to make such calls again is an acknowledgement that if -- you know -- if I had realized in advance that this would cause such concern, then I wouldn't have done it in the first place.

But let me repeat -- I understood what I did to be legal and appropriate. I felt like I was doing the right thing. I am proud that I was able to do a lot of effective work to help re-elect Bill Clinton and keep this country moving in the right direction.

I'll spare you the rhetoric about the results of what we have been able to do, but I want you to know that I'm very proud to be a part of that effort.

Yes.

QUESTION: What is your position on the -- on the elimination of soft money from campaigns?

GORE: Oh, I favor -- I favor the so-called McCain-Feingold bill which would do that. The president and I strongly favor campaign finance reform legislation that would accomplish that objective, and we hope that it will pass.

Yes.

QUESTION: Vice President Gore, there has been a lot written about your impregnable reputation for a -- for being above the fray and for being ethically someone who really hasn't been questioned on these issues. Does this shatter that, and does it hurt you for the year 2000?

GORE: Well, on the second part of it, I'm -- I've told you before that I'm not focused on a political campaign in the future. I'm focused on doing everything I can to help this president be the best president he's capable of being and to move this country in the right direction. And he's doing a terrific job. I'm very proud to be a part of his team.

On the first part of the question, I'll say again, I never did anything that I felt was wrong, much less illegal. And again, I am advised that there is no controlling legal authority that says this was in violation of law.

Yes.

QUESTION: Vice President Gore, did you feel any discomfort at all as you called these individuals and asked them for donations? And did you ask for specific amounts of money when you spoke with them?

GORE: Yes, I did. On the first part of your question -- you know, I served eight years in the House and eight years in the Senate, and I was used to calling people to ask them to help with the campaign.

I introduced legislation some years ago to call for complete public financing of campaigns and to prevent the contributions that are now legal, over and above, the public financing of the presidential campaigns.

The legislation that I sponsored and supported did not have enough support to pass. I still favor that legislation, but it didn't pass. There's probably even less support for it now.

So we have a system of campaign finance here in the United States that says candidates who are running for office ought to go out and ask people to contribute to their campaigns and to have fundraisers. And so I was used to doing that as a candidate for the House, as a candidate for the Senate.

I would be surprised if all -- if all 100 members of the United States Senate and all 435 -- well, there are probably some House members who don't, because they have safe seats and don't raise any money. But I would be surprised if all senators and most all House members did not, as a matter of routine, call people up and ask them hold fundraisers and ask them to help raise money.

That is the standard way that we finance campaigns. So I was use to that. Does it make one uncomfortable to do that? Why, sure. But if you believe in what you're doing, in balancing the budget and moving this country forward, and you know that the only way you can be successful in achieving the agenda you believe is right for the country, is to play by the rules as they exist and raise campaign funds, then you do that.

And typically, what happens to members of the house and Senate is they'll put it off and put it off until the election year comes and then the people helping them will say, you've got to devote time to raise money. And they say, oh, I hate this, I don't want to do it. And then they get into it and they start making the calls and they raise the money.

I'm exactly the same way. Yes?

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, if there's nothing coy about the year 2000, anyone who expects to run for president in 2000 has to start very early thinking about money. Predecessors of yours have started PACs, political action committees or fund raising arms.

What are you going to do between now and 19...

GORE: I've made no decision about that whatsoever. And I really am focused on my work as vice president and doing everything I can to help this president.

If the time comes when I become a candidate, I'll be glad to answer such questions and talk about such matters at that time. But we're not there yet. Yes?

QUESTION: So you're going to raise no money at all? You will raise no money at all for a political action committee or anything else that would...

GORE: I have not set up a political action committee, and I've made no decision to do so. Whether I will in the future or not, I really haven't decided.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President?

GORE: Yes?

QUESTION: Something that I'm just a little confused about. You said there was only just a handful of incidents when you used the White House.

GORE: Correct.

QUESTION: So we can assume the preponderance of calls were made from the DNC or your residence? Is that...

GORE: No, no, there were a handful of incidents, period.

QUESTION: Oh, these are the only incidents that you raised money, period.

GORE: That's correct. I went to the DNC on one occasion in I believe October of 1994 to help raise money for the party. You know, the impression was created that I went out and raised all this money and then they talked about me calling people on the telephone, and the two things were put together to give the impression that I raised all this money by calling people on the telephone.

QUESTION: So you're saying...

GORE: That is not an accurate impression. Most all of the money for the campaign that I'm given credit for raising came in the form of traditional events where I was the main speaker at fundraising events.

There were a few occasions, as I said at the very outset, where I did make telephone calls, and I have described those.

But that was the minor part of what I did in raising funds.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) anybody calling you a solicitor-in-chief?

QUESTION: Could we get clear on this?

QUESTION: Is there something...

GORE: I never heard such a phrase. I never heard such a phrase until I read it in the paper.

QUESTION: Sir?

GORE: Yes?

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, you said that the president and vice president we're covered under the Hatch Act, and that part -- in that way, you two were different.

GORE: Yes.

QUESTION: But the other part of the statute seems to set up federal buildings as a sanctuary from fundraising. Were you unaware of that part of the statute?

GORE: No, I was not. And let me repeat -- I never asked for a contribution from anyone who was in a federal building. And all of the calls that I made were charged to the DNC. I was advised that was proper. In reviewing the matter, my counsel advises me there's no case. There's no controlling legal authority that says that violate the law.

Yes.

QUESTION: Well, then the question -- is it possible that the absence of case law on this means that reasonable people could differ about what parts of the statute mean, applied to different activities in which you may have taken part at different times?

GORE: Well, that's not a question for me to determine. I'm advised that it is -- that there is no case or no controlling legal authority that says it is a violation of the law. And I never did anything that I felt was wrong, much less a violation of the law.

Yes.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, also, did you know about -- did the president know about any of these calls you made? Did you discuss it? Did he ever ask you to make any calls? Was he aware of your...

GORE: No, he never asked me to make calls. I'm sure that he was aware that I was helping to raise funds for the campaign. It's -- well, I won't comment on what other vice presidents have or have not done.

But I don't think it is surprising to people that when a president and vice president are running for re-election that the vice president helps to raise funds for the campaign.

And anybody who wants to create the impression that that is something brand new in American politics, I would invite to take another look at that question.

Yes.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, when the Clinton-Gore election agreed to take public funds, it also agreed to spending caps. And yet you're referring to the DNC's soft money operation as "our campaign."

Doesn't this operation show that, as a practical matter, there was no distinction between the Clinton-Gore campaign and the DNC's soft money operation?

GORE: No, there was a clear distinction. There was a separate message. There were separate legal requirements. It was -- it was separate in most all respects.

Now, the fact that the agenda supported by the Democratic National Committee's advertisements was similar to and overlapping with the agenda that was being pressed by the incumbent Democratic president should not be surprising.

And again, it's hardly unique in American political history for an incumbent president to be supported by the political party of which he is the titular head. That is commonplace.

QUESTION: But raising that money...

GORE: Now, I'm only going to be able to -- I'm...

(UNKNOWN): One more.

GORE: Yes.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President...

GORE: Well, wait a minute. Right here -- I promised here.

QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, was there any particular urgency to the calls the few occasions that you did make calls from the White House. Were they -- could not have waited until you were in a setting away from your office in the White House?

GORE: Well, first of all, as I said before, I was advised there was nothing wrong with it. So the question did not occur in that form. So there was not a sense of urgency in that sense.

We felt, as we were preparing for our campaign, a general sense that, you know, we wanted to make sure that we had the ability to compete.

Let me remind you that the -- our opponents raised over all, I believe, what, 40 percent more than we did? And so we knew that they had a big head start and that they had a huge collection of resources, so we felt that -- we felt the need to move on with it.

QUESTION: To follow up on that, you also could have made these very same calls from somewhere else?

GORE: Yes.

One more, and then I'm going to have to go.

QUESTION: You have said that this is not unique in American politics, but judging from the comments of your predecessors, it would appear that direct solicitation by the vice president had not been done in the past.

Were you aware of that?

GORE: No.

QUESTION: And also the fact that the president himself refused to make these phone calls. Were you aware of that and why did you think perhaps a different sort of standard applied to you?

GORE: No, I was not aware of the latter. On the first part of your question, what I said was not unique was the practice of incumbent vice presidents running for re-election, going out to help raise money for the campaign and for the political party of which they were a part.

And I will leave it to you all to determine whether that's totally unique or not. I'm not -- I don't want to get into what any other vice president has done. I'm proud of what I did.

I do not feel like I did anything wrong, much less illegal. I -- I am proud to have done everything I possibly could to help support the re-election of this president and to help move his agenda forward. It is helping this country.

Our economy is roaring. Inflation is low. Crime is down. Investments in education and protecting the environment are going up. Social trends are favorable. Economic trends are favorable. We are moving in the right direction.

Let me tell you. One of the principal reasons we are is that we have a president and a group of people who are proud to support his efforts who are willing to go out there every day and fight hard, sometimes against powerful odds, to make sure that we pass this agenda and move forward. And I am very proud to continue to play a role in that.

Thank you very much.


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