09/22/97 - 12:15 AM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Gore hires defense lawyers

STANFORD, Calif. - Saying he wants his case presented "directly and personally," Vice President Al Gore has hired two private defense attorneys to handle investigations of questionable fund raising in the 1996 election campaign.

The hiring of Jim Neal of Nashville, Tenn., and George Frampton of Washington, D.C., underscores Gore's concern that Attorney General Janet Reno may appoint a special prosecutor.

"The vice president wanted private counsel so he can get his position presented directly and personally to the Department of Justice," Gore spokeswoman Lorraine Voles said. "He has instructed his private counsel to continue to cooperate fully with the department."

Reno has until the first week of October to complete an initial 30-day review about the possibility of conducting a formal investigation into whether an independent counsel should be appointed to look into Gore's fund-raising activities.

If she approves the formal investigation, the Justice Department would have 90 days to decide whether to ask a federal court to appoint a special prosecutor.

The White House counsel's office represents Gore only is his official capacity and cannot lobby the Justice Department on his behalf. Gore wants Neal and Frampton to convince Justice that a special prosecutor is not necessary, said an official close to Gore.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Gore's position will not change: He says he did no wrong.

There are no plans for Gore to launch a legal defense fund to pay his attorney fees, the official said. President Clinton and his wife, Hillary, have run up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills, far more than their defense fund has raised.

Gore has not worked out the financial arrangements with the attorneys, the official said.

Neal, a former Watergate prosecutor and later a high-profile defense attorney, is a longtime friend and adviser of the Gores. He is a partner of the Neal and Harwell law firm in Nashville.

Frampton, a former assistant secretary of the interior under Clinton, will be co-counsel. He is based in Washington.

Gore says he broke no rules, but many Democrats are braced for the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate further. Because those special prosecutors have wide latitude in the scope of their investigations, such a probe could haunt Gore through his likely campaign for the presidency in 2000.

An unfettered inquiry also could increase pressure on Clinton, who so far has weathered congressional investigations without serious harm to his popularity.

Gore acknowledged in March that he had made phone solicitations to 48 Democratic donors from his White House office between November 1995 and May 1996.

Federal law prohibits federal officials from making fund-raising solicitations on government property, although experts disagree whether that statute applies to calls made to donors outside the building.

Republicans are adamant that Reno name an independent counsel, and warn that she could even face impeachment if she fails to do so. "If she does not go forward, we would have to act in some responsible way," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said last Sunday.

A Time-CNN Poll released last week indicated that 44% of Americans considered Gore's fund-raising activities inappropriate and 60% thought an independent counsel should investigate.

By The Associated Press

Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.