Gore Defends Himself (3/3)
In The Line Of Fire
Press probes fund-raising practices while Clinton fires back
By Kathleen Hayden/AllPolitics
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, March 7) -- President Bill Clinton withstood a torrent of questions on the growing Democratic fund-raising flap at a press conference this afternoon. He defended his staff and his campaign's actions, while calling the current campaign system "out of whack." (256K WAV sound)
The president used the opportunity make a point he said he's been trying hard to get across: "We had to work hard within the law to raise a lot of money to be competitive," he said. "We did work hard, and I'm glad we did, because the stakes were high and the divisions between us in Washington at that time were very great."
"The real problem is these campaigns cost too much money, they take too much time, and they will continue to do so until we pass campaign finance reform," said the president.
Clinton fiercely defended Vice President Al Gore and the first lady's chief of staff, Margaret Williams, who have recently been caught up in the flap, calling them "highly ethical people."
Earlier this week Gore admitted that he had made fund-raising calls from his White House office, and said it wasn't wrong, but pledged not to do it again. Clinton praised the vice president's handling of the situation and said that Gore made the right decision.
But the president could not rule out that he had done the same thing. Explaining that he cannot recall every one of the thousands of calls he has made, Clinton said, "I simply can't say that I've never done it." (256K WAV sound)
Williams said this week that she forwarded a $50,000 soft money donation from California businessman Johnny Chung to the Democratic National Committee from the White House. Clinton said repeatedly that she did nothing wrong or illegal, though in retrospect it would have been better had she not done Chung the "courtesy."
Mistakes like those are to be expected though under the current system because it requires so much money, Clinton said. "I do believe that this system is not good now. It is so expensive. It requires too much time, too much energy. And the more effort you put into it, the more opportunity you have for some sort of something going wrong," he said.
Clinton said that his administration worked within the current laws and had not "compromised" itself. He defended the controversial White House coffees and the overnight visits of friends, family and donors in the Lincoln Bedroom.
And money alone never changed a policy decision, the president insisted. "I don't believe you can find any evidence of the fact that I had changed government policy solely because of a contribution," Clinton said.
He also said donors were never guaranteed a certain level of access to him or to the White House if they donated a set number of dollars.
When asked why he does not ask Attorney General Janet Reno to appoint a special counsel, as he did for Whitewater, the president said at that time there was no current law on the books describing the threshold. "Now, there is a law in place. It is a legal question. I do not think it should become a political question, and I have been very rigorous in dealing with this in saying it in just that way," Clinton said.
He agreed it was not enough to explain away fund-raising irregularities by saying that the other party does the same thing, or that the actions are legal. Said Clinton: "I think we should be held to a higher standard." (256K WAV sound)
But he said the Democratic Party must remain competitive. "I don't believe either that we can afford to run the risk of having one party just kind of disappear from the scene because...they're unwilling to do what is necessary to be competitive in raising funds in the system that exists."
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