Reno hangs tough on Gore probe

The attorney general just says "no comment" on a new investigation.

By Alicia Montgomery

Published June 28, 2000 6:55PM (EDT)

Janet Reno made another in what seems to be an endless series of appearances before congressional investigatory panels, this time to discuss appointing a special counsel in the 1996 Gore fundraising case. CNN reports that, as usual, the attorney general stayed the course during rough questioning and refused comment on any pending investigations. "I think those matters should be handled properly and professionally, not in headlines but in courtrooms," Reno said.

Still, the assembled senators stuck to their scripts, reading their sound-bite speeches into the record. "We now find ourselves on the threshold of a new election with many old questions still unanswered," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, concluding that "it is now time to make a decision and be held accountable for it." Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who originally leaked the news about the latest special counsel recommendation to the press, defended himself against charges that he had been motivated by a desire to take the spotlight off George W. Bush the day after a controversial Texas execution. "I do not take lightly the comments of the vice president's surrogates accusing me of McCarthy-like tactics," Specter said, adding, "That is a matter I will take up personally with the vice president to see if it was authorized."

Pointed words and pointing fingers
The vice president's team responded defiantly to Specter's outrage. The Associated Press reports that the Gore campaign stuck by spokesman Chris Lehane's statements that Specter was engaging in "McCarthyite tactics" by disclosing information about the Justice Department probe to the press. Dismissing Specter's request for an apology, Gore communications director Mark Fabiani said, "He shouldn't expect an apology and we still expect an answer to how Senator Specter received and then leaked confidential Justice Department information." From the road, Bush called the incident an example of the Clinton-Gore administration's habit of smearing its political adversaries. The American people are "sick of this kind of finger-pointing and calling names and trying to divert attention," Bush told reporters at a Michigan press conference.

A new congressional sex scandal?
Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., is defending himself against charges that he pushed through some legislation to help a close female friend. The Bakersfield Californian reported that Thomas' "intensely personal" relationship with healthcare lobbyist Deborah Steelman has raised eyebrows among government watchdogs. Thomas responded to the charges with an open letter to his constituents, in which he insisted, "I have never traded a public responsibility for a personal one and I never will." Thomas was more direct in a later public statement, declaring, "The insinuations in the Bakersfield newspaper are repulsive. To suggest I would stoop to an 'inappropriate relationship' to achieve legislative results is repugnant and sexist."

Steelman has had unfortunate brushes with political notoriety in the past. Her former husband, Don Sipple, was a key Republican image-maker who worked on Bush's first governor's race. After the marriage ended, Steelman testified that Sipple had beaten her repeatedly.

House shoots down "stealth PACs"
Congressional representatives moved closer to uncovering some political secrets by voting to require so-called stealth PACs to disclose their donors. The Washington Post reports that the House voted in a landslide to approve the plan, with 385 voting to pass it and just 39 voting against it. "I hope we can agree voters have the right to know who is paying for any election ad and who is trying to influence their vote," said reform advocate Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del. Former presidential hopeful John McCain coauthored the companion legislation in the Senate and praised the House's action in a written statement: "While only a first step toward reform, it is an extremely important step that is vitally needed as these 527 organizations are proving to be the new political weapon of choice," McCain said.

The stealth PACs have been facilitated by Article 527 in the tax code, which allows certain tax-exempt groups to participate in political activities without disclosing the names of their contributors. In recent years, these groups have become a vehicle for sponsors of political attack ads who wish to remain anonymous.

Gore's burst of energy
The Democratic presidential candidate debuted his much-anticipated energy plan during a campaign stop in Philadelphia. The New York Times reports that the $125 billion proposal aims to reduce American dependence on foreign oil, decrease the use of polluting technologies and ensure a stable electricity supply. "There can be a next stage of prosperity in which American creativity builds not just a better product, but a better planet," Gore said. Though the plan has an Earth-first slant, it's also business-friendly. Much of the money devoted to Gore's vision would go to industry, with $75 billion allocated for tax breaks, loans, grants and other incentives aimed at pushing businesses toward using environmentally sound technologies.

Democrats attack donor gender gap
The latest polls indicate that Gore has had his share of problems holding on to female voters. But that won't keep him from going for their wallets. According to the Associated Press, the Democratic Party wants to increase the cash raised from women donors from the $135 million recorded from 1997 to 1998. "We think it's a way to tap into a different market that may have been overlooked by both parties," said Janice Griffin, head of the Democratic National Committee's Women's Leadership Forum. "That's certainly a way to bring in new money. And we think it's a new pool of money." Carol Pensky, a finance co-chairwoman for the Democrat National Committee, said that just asking women for money is a big step forward in politics. "In the finance world, it was the men who were reached out to," she said. "Women weren't asked to write checks. They were asked to lick the envelopes but not to contribute and be involved in all aspects."

Bush woos Latinos, but Gore wins their votes
The Texas governor's push for Hispanic support has netted mixed results, according to a new survey. Reuters reports that while Bush has set a new high mark for Republican candidates in the Latino community, he still trails Gore 32 to 54 percent among those voters in a Bendixen and Associates poll. The Associated Press details distinctions found in Latino voters' political preferences depending on their registration date. Those who registered to vote before 1995 favor Gore by only 12 points; that margin swells to 31 points among those registered since 1995.

Pollster Sergio Bendixen believes that the latter group's Democratic bent can be traced to the anti-immigrant policies advocated by Republicans such as former California Gov. Pete Wilson during the early and mid-'90s. "This is a group that has come out of nowhere, the fastest-growing and also the group most loyal to the Democratic Party," Bendixen said. He also warned the candidates to stop sprinkling their stump speeches with Spanish phrases as a way to appeal to Latinos, at least until they can do it right. "Gore doesn't speak [Spanish], but he tries to. Bush speaks it better," said Bendixen. "If I were a campaign manager, I would not allow you to say one word in Spanish."

Buchanan won't play center field
GOP dissident and Reform Party hopeful Pat Buchanan backs many of the anti-immigration policies that have led to distrust of Republicans among the nation's Hispanics. Though he has softened his rhetoric, a CBS News interview indicates that Buchanan's "No way, Jose" beliefs on immigration, along with many of his other hard-right philosophies, have not changed. "I believe we need a timeout on legal immigration," he said. "We need to halt illegal immigration at our border even if it means putting the army of the United States on the frontier of America and Mexico." Buchanan also reiterated his positions against global trade agreements, federal affirmative action programs and American intervention in Kosovo.

Poll positions
Presidential race:

  • Bush 52 to Gore 39 (CNN/Gallup/USA Today June 23-25).
  • Bush 45 to Gore 45 (Newsweek June 22-23).
  • Bush 49 to Gore 41 (NBC/Wall Street Journal June 14-18).
  • Bush 52 to Gore 40 ( June 11-13).
  • Bush 50 to Gore 40 (Los Angeles Times June 8-13).
  • Bush 47 to Gore 39 (Zogby June 9-12).
  • Bush 49 to Gore 45 (ABC News/Washington Post June 8-11).

    On the trail
    Buchanan: To be announced.
    Bush: Ohio.
    Gore: New York and Ohio.
    Ralph Nader: Washington.

    Sound off
    E-mail Trail Mix with your comments, suggestions and tips at

    Sign up
    Get regular updates from the politics newsletter.

    Hungry for more Trail Mix?

  • Alicia Montgomery

    Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

    MORE FROM Alicia Montgomery

    Related Topics ------------------------------------------