09/06/97 - 10:47 AM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Gore confident he did nothing wrong

WASHINGTON - Vice President Al Gore says he's confident a new Justice Department review will find his political fund-raising calls from the White House "legal and appropriate."

Gore's comments Friday were his first since the department announced earlier this week that it would look into the possible need for an independent counsel to investigate his actions.

It is unlawful to use government facilities to raise money for political campaigns.

Gore told reporters he was "confident that when all the reviews are complete, they will find what I did is legal and appropriate. We're cooperating fully with the review and we went the extra step of making it all public. What this shows is the need for campaign finance reform."

The vice president addressed the issue in the midst of several appearances in New Hampshire, the first primary state in the 2000 presidential campaign, in which he is expected to be a candidate.

Meanwhile Friday, Attorney General Janet Reno acknowledged during her weekly news conference that Justice Department investigators never traced the use of campaign contributions Gore sought from his White House office in 1995-96.

Reno ordered the review after news reports this week suggested that more than $120,000 Gore raised went into the Clinton-Gore campaign account, instead of a "soft money" account used for party-building activities.

"The first I heard of it was when I saw the article in The Washington Post, and that's the first time I learned of it," she said. "It is my understanding that that is the first time the (Justice Department's) public integrity section learned of it, as well."

Reno also said that Gore's intentions for use of the money he solicited from the White House will not be a factor in determining whether to call for an independent counsel.

"Under the independent counsel statute, the intent really is not at issue in the first 30 days," she said. "I cannot consider that."

On Capitol Hill, meantime, a former top Gore aide told Senate investigators that the vice president did not know an event at which he appeared at a California Buddhist temple was a political fund-raiser.

"I know what a fund-raiser is and this was not a fund-raiser," David M. Strauss, Gore's former deputy chief of staff, told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which is looking into fund-raising abuses.

Gore also has said he did not believe the event was a fund-raiser, although the Democratic National Committee collected $100,000 in donations linked to the April 29, 1996, luncheon. As a tax-exempt institution, the temple is not supposed to be involved in partisan politics.

"I believed it was not a fund-raiser because that is what I was told in the briefing, and obviously it turned out to be something other than what it was represented to be," Gore said in an interview published Saturday in The Union Leader of Manchester, an influential and conservative voice.

By The Associated Press