Gore: Defending phone calls 'a mistake'

WASHINGTON - Vice President Gore said he made "a very big mistake" in mounting an awkwardly worded public defense of his fund-raising phone calls from the White House, according to a published interview.

Gore said he regretted calling a news conference last March during which he repeated several times that there was "no controlling legal authority" that governed his decision to make fund-raising calls from the White House.

"My staff was unanimously against my going out there and doing that press conference," Gore told The New Yorker in editions of the magazine that hit newsstands on Monday. "They bear no responsibility."

Gore was alternately jocular and serious about an episode that some say did serious damage to his presumed run for president in 2000.

"I wanted to make a clean breast of it and tell everything I did, and why, even at the risk of making some mistakes," Gore said. Then, giggling, according to the magazine account, Gore added, "You know, to paraphrase the late Isaiah Berlin, 'The fox makes many little mistakes, the hedgehog makes one big one.' And that was one very big mistake."

Initial reports about the fund-raising calls focused on their possible illegality. Since, even some Republicans have dismissed the seriousness of the calls themselves, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. The Senate Judiciary Chairman said Sunday in talk show appearances that other aspects of Democratic campaign fund raising should be the focus of investigations.

In the interview, Gore deflected questions about his stiffness in public appearances in contrast with his loose, jocular style in less formal settings.

"Oh, well, that's psychodrama," the vice president said. "I'm good at that. ... Do you really want to ask that question?"

Tipper Gore said of her husband, "He is shy. ... He's always been shy. He was reserved when he was a teen-ager."

While the gregarious President Clinton relaxes by inviting friends to the White House to play cards, relaxation for Gore often involves going off by himself to work with his laptop computer, according to members of his staff.

Mrs. Gore said she and the vice president were surprised at how quickly after Clinton's 1996 re-election the press turned a critical eye on Gore as the putative leading contender to succeed Clinton.

"It was a different political environment from what he had expected," Mrs. Gore said. "But I guess that's what happens when some people are onto what they think is a big story. I think he's been terrific handling it."

Making light of his dismal efforts at spin control, Gore also joked about another disaster involving reporters with him in China earlier this year.

Dissatisfied with how a meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng had unfolded, Gore tried to speak to journalists "on background," meaning he would not be named in their stories, to give a tougher portrayal of his demeanor with the Chinese official. The strategy failed and Gore was widely reported to be trying to shore up his own image for toughness in a key diplomatic exchange.

"Oh, I guess I had to get it out of my system," Gore said, laughing. "It worked so well the first time."

By The Associated Press

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