Campaign funds probe into Gore

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The Independent Online
The chief law officer of the US is expanding a judicial inquiry into the activities of Vice President Al Gore. It is claimed that his money-raising efforts for the Democratic Party during the last presidential election broke the law. The decision could have serious implications for Mr Gore's future career, says Mary Dejevsky.

The decision of Janet Reno, the US Attorney General, to extend the inquiry into the Vice President follows an 11-month investigation into whether Mr Gore broke an 1883 law which limits the ways in which politicians may raise party funds. The main allegations concern telephone calls Mr Gore is said to have made from his White House office to solicit contributions to the Democrats.

According to US newspaper reports, citing White House telephone accounts, he raised millions of dollars from hundreds of calls made during the 1996 election campaign. The law makes it an offence to use federal premises for raising party funds.

Mr Gore - who has made no secret of his ambition to succeed Bill Clinton as president in 2001 - has admitted making calls, but insists that what he did was legal. Both he and President Clinton - who could face a similar investigation - have accused leading Republicans of engaging in a witch- hunt.

While the Gore camp played down the significance of Ms Reno's decision, they were clearly preparing for further trouble. If, as is considered likely, the 60-day investigation announced yesterday results in the appointment of an independent prosecutor - so taking the case out of the political domain for the first time - this would virtually guarantee that the investigation would continue into the next presidential campaign in 2000, raising serious questions about Mr Gore's prospects for election.

Mr Gore has already hired a leading lawyer, James Neal, to advise him. The appointment , however, who is also a family friend from his home state of Tennessee, is already causing Mr Gore further grief, following revelations that he is providing his (very expensive) services free.