A Gore scandal guide for dummies

From the Buddhist nuns to the "iced tea defense"


The biggest challenge for Vice President Al Gore this campaign season will not be stepping out of Bill Clinton’s shadow, but shedding the image of scandal that surrounds the Clinton-Gore administration. Those efforts were hampered again this week, when Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn., revealed that top officials within the Justice Department are urging Attorney General Janet Reno again to appoint an independent counsel to investigate the possibility that Gore misled DOJ officials about his fundraising activities in 1996.

Now, the investigation would not be about the fundraising, only about the possible coverup of his fundraising. Gore released the entire transcript of his April Q-and-A session with investigators Friday, which included a denial about the infamous Buddhist temple fundraiser in 1996.

“I sure as hell don’t recall having — I sure as hell did not have any conversations with anyone saying this is a fundraising event,” Gore testified.

Gore was confident that the transcript would ultimately exonerate him. “I think the truth is my friend in this,” Gore told reporters Friday. “I have full confidence in the judgment of the American people … I want people to judge for themselves.”

In the meantime, all eyes are on Janet Reno. Congress allowed the independent counsel law to expire last year, leaving the decision to appoint squarely in Reno’s lap. So once again, in the closing months of her tenure, it falls to the attorney general to make a key decision that could affect the political career of people in the White House who appointed her.

But who can keep track of all these scandals? From the Buddhist temple to Johnny Huang to Charlie Trie and “no controlling legal authority,” the last four years are a tangled mess of alleged wrongdoings that hover over this administration. What follows below is a guideline to the scandals that have most directly affected Gore over the last four years, a Gore scandal guide for dummies:

April 1996 Gore attends an event at the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles that nets the Democratic National Committee close to $65,000 from donors. In September 1997, a trio of Buddhist nuns from the temple admit in Senate testimony that the temple illegally reimbursed guests for their donations. Gore later denies knowing the gathering at the temple was a fundraiser, describing the event as “community outreach.”

March 1997 Gore is criticized for making fundraising calls from his White House office, and passing the bill on to taxpayers. Gore said he was advised before making the White House calls that there was nothing wrong with making the calls and that there was “no controlling legal authority” governing his actions.

September 1997 DOJ announces inquiry into fundraising practices of the Clinton-Gore reelection campaign, including charges that Gore aides illegally diverted soft money into the Clinton-Gore reelection effort and that Gore made illegal fundraising calls from the White House. This time, the focus on Gore’s phone calls centers on the fact that money raised from his office went into hard-money accounts, which would be illegal, as opposed to soft-money contributions to the DNC.

November 1997 Gore is interviewed by FBI investigators about a 1995 fundraising meeting at the White House.

You Might Also Like

December 1997 Reno declines to name an independent counsel to investigate whether Gore knew he was raising hard money while making the calls from the White House.

June 1998 Gore meets with the FBI again.

July 1998 Charles LaBella, the outgoing chief prosecutor of the Justice Department’s campaign finance task force, delivers a report to Reno urging her to appoint an independent counsel.

August 1998 Gore again meets with FBI investigators about the 1995 fundraising meeting. When presented with documents that appear to contradict his earlier assertion that he was not a part of any fundraising discussions at that meeting, Gore offers what comes to be known as the “iced tea defense”: “The Vice President also observed that he drank a lot of iced tea during the meetings, which could have necessitated a restroom break,” which would have caused him to miss the discussions about fundraising, according to the FBI report.

Meanwhile, FBI director Louis Freeh warns Reno that she faces an “irrevocable political conflict of interest” in investigating the administration’s fundraising improprieties, and urges the attorney general to appoint an independent counsel. Two weeks later Reno reopens her inquiry into possible campaign finance law violations by the vice president to look into evidence that some Gore aides knowingly and illegally planned to divert Democratic Party donations — soft money — to the Clinton-Gore reelection effort.

November 1998 Reno says she would not seek a special prosecutor to investigate Gore on charges he deliberately misled FBI investigators when questioned about possible campaign finance abuses during the 1996 campaign.

“I notified this Court of the initiation of a preliminary investigation of Vice President of the United States Albert Gore, Jr. The preliminary investigation has now been concluded, and I have determined that there are no reasonable grounds to believe that further investigation is warranted of the matters that were under investigation. Therefore, appointment of an independent counsel is not being sought,” Reno wrote in a statement

March 2000 Maria Hsia, a prodigious Democratic fundraiser and associate of the vice president, is convicted of illegally funneling more than $100,000 in contributions to Democratic candidates in 1996.

April 2000 Agents from the FBI and Department of Justice grill Gore for four hours on the issue of fundraising, focusing on the notorious Buddhist temple fundraiser.

May 2000 Documents subpoenaed by the Senate reveal a memo by Freeh suggesting that Reno’s decision not to name an independent counsel was motivated in part by pressure from the White House.

June 2000 Specter, head of the Senate’s Justice Department task force, announces that Robert Conrad, the head of the Justice Department’s campaign finance task force is urging Reno to appoint an independent counsel to determine whether Al Gore told the truth when investigators questioned him about his 1996 fundraising.

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>