09/23/97 - 11:30 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Clinton: Donation solicitations were legal

NEW YORK - President Clinton declared Monday that he and Vice President Al Gore "intended to be firmly within the letter of the law" while seeking donations in their 1996 re-election campaign.

"I believed then and I believe now that what we did was legal," Clinton told reporters in New York, where he was addressing the United Nations.

A federal law prohibits seeking political donations from a federal office. It is not clear whether that law extends to the president and vice president, or whether Clinton actually made any calls from the White House.

Republicans are calling for an independent counsel to investigate the matter. Attorney General Janet Reno has begun a 30-day review of Clinton's activity, a step already taken for Gore, who has admitted making some calls from the White House.

The New York Times reported Monday that Justice Department investigators have documents showing that Clinton was urged to place as many as 40 calls to wealthy contributors from the White House, and most of the people on a call list made large donations to the Democratic Party.

Clinton would not comment on that report. He said he would cooperate with investigators "however I can to establish the facts," but remained "absolutely certain" that he and Gore did not intend to seek contributions illegally.

"I am absolutely positive that we intended to be firmly within the letter of the law when we were out there campaigning and raising funds, as we should have been doing," Clinton said. "We had to do that."

The 30-day review is the first step toward seeking an independent counsel. GOP congressional leaders argue that Reno should seek one on the mere possibility that Clinton solicited donations from the White House.

Some Republicans have threatened to initiate impeachment proceedings against Reno if she fails to act.

"It seems to me if you had an independent person looking at the whole thing, that would be the way to go," Michael Madigan, GOP counsel for the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, told CNN.

Meanwhile on Monday, Harold Ickes, the president's former deputy chief of staff and a key figure in the fund-raising controversy, was questioned in private by investigators for the committee.

White House spokesman Mike McCurry said some of the allegations being investigated are "clearly partisan in nature."

"The American public can be treated to a lot of press coverage and a lot of commentary that is partisan in spirit," McCurry said.

On a related matter, The Washington Post said the Justice Department's review of records that could shed light on Clinton's possible fund-raising calls was delayed for months because of confused document-handling procedures.

By The Associated Press

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