09/07/97 - 03:35 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Specter says Gore should testify

WASHINGTON - Vice President Al Gore should voluntarily appear before a Senate panel investigating campaign finance irregularities to state clearly that he had no knowledge that his 1996 visit to a Buddhist temple was a fund-raising event, a member of the panel said Sunday.

"I think there's no question as the picture has unfolded that the vice president has to speak out on that," Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said on CBS' Face the Nation. "I think that Vice President Gore may be able to save his political standing if he does that."

Gore has repeatedly stated that he did not believe the April 1996 event at the Buddhist temple in Los Angeles was a fund-raiser.

That visit was the focus of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's investigation into campaign funding irregularities last week, when nuns acknowledged that they were reimbursed for checks they wrote to the Democrats.

The Democratic National Committee collected $100,000 in donations linked to the luncheon. As a tax-exempt institution, the temple is not supposed to be involved in partisan politics.

Specter said there were no immediate plans to call Gore to testify, but predicted that Gore may come to the conclusion that "appearing sooner, voluntarily, rather than later, would be in his political interest."

Asked if Gore intended to appear before the panel, his spokeswoman, Ginny Terzano, said, "No, and no request has been made."

Specter said he was prepared to believe the president's assertion that he had no knowledge that money was being raised at the temple, one of seven stops he made that day.

But another committee member, Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., said on "Fox News Sunday" that "I think he knew it was a fund-raiser. I think all of his staff knew it was a fund-raiser." Asked if the vice president was lying, Nickles said, "I think it stretches credibility to think that he didn't know that this was a fund-raiser."

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., another committee member, said on FOX that while the Democrats were paying the price for the "unseemly" collecting of money at the temple, it was "over the line" to suggest that Gore wasn't telling the truth. Republicans, he said, "have yet to produce a single witness who has disputed what the vice president has said."

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