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News Briefs, part 1

Dole Catches White House In `$23 Million Lie'

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

President Clinton was forced to retreat Monday in the face of Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole's angry accusation that the White House had told "a $23 million lie" about a project in his state.

The White House said that Clinton "regrets" any misunderstandings caused by "hyperbole" in a barbed joke the president told that brought the house down Saturday at an annual black-tie dinner hosted by White House correspondents.

Clinton had said that Dole, R-Kan., was seeking $23 million from the federal government to convert a senior citizens' center into a boathouse, at the same time the lawmaker was assailing Clinton for wasteful "pork barrel" spending.

Dole, who led the Republican battle that scuttled Clinton's economic stimulus package, first challenged the accuracy of the statement in a television interview show Sunday but he seemed confused about the details. Monday, he flatly denied the claim and issued a belated blast.

"The White House lied," Dole said, carefully avoiding a direct attack on the president himself. "There's no $23 million boathouse, no deficit spending, no new money, no connection with the president's deadbeat `stimulus' bill and no truth coming from a White House staff that is ill-serving the president with these sophomoric attacks."

Dole said that he had sought a federal waiver to clear the way for privately funded construction of a public boathouse in Wichita.

"If the White House wants to play hardball, I'm ready to suit up," Dole concluded, sending an ominous signal that the issue could spill over into future relations with Senate Republicans.

George Stephanopoulos, the White House communications director, issued a statement late Monday afternoon.

"The president regrets the misunderstanding that may have been caused by any hyperbole in his jokes at Saturday's White House dinner," he said.

"While Senator Dole did make the case that the Wichita boathouse is a legitimate Community Development Block Grant project, the potential cost to the taxpayer is not as high as stated in the president's joke," the statement concluded.

While the war of words may be forgotten, the harshly worded statement by Dole signaled that the lack of harmony between the Senate GOP leader and the Clinton White House could affect the future of the president's programs in Congress.

Head of Germany's Opposition Party Quits in Wake of Scandal

Los Angeles Times

BONN, Germany

In the latest crisis to rock Europe's beleaguered political mainstream, the head of Germany's opposition Social Democrats quit Monday in the wake of a 6-year-old "dirty tricks" scandal.

Coming amid scandals that have left Italy's government in tatters and drove France's former prime minister to suicide, the blow to Germany's oldest political party deepens what is fast becoming a collective crisis of confidence in the Continent's political establishments.

The resignation of Bjoern Engholm left a clear playing field for Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his Christian Democratic Union in German national elections next year, a boost by default for the conservative incumbent as his post-unification popularity sags.

The 53-year-old Engholm resigned as chairman of the left-leaning Social Democrats and premier of the state of Schleswig-Holstein after admitting that he gave false testimony about what he knew when in a 1987 smear campaign that targeted him.

Saying that his "stock of trust" had been damaged and that he did not wish to cause further harm to his family or the party he had served for 30 years, Engholm stepped down amid charges that he knew in advance about the botched smear campaign against him, used it to his political advantage and then lied about it afterward.

The 1987 scandal focused on the race between Engholm and Uwe Barschel, the Christian Democratic incumbent, for the post of state premier in Schleswig-Holstein.