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VP Gore's Staff Routinely Destroyed Phone Records

By Bob Woodward
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

The executive assistant to Vice President Gore has testified that she or her assistants routinely discarded Gore's copy of the call sheets prepared for his telephone solicitations of potential campaign contributors after Gore talked to the potential donors.

Government officials said there was no suggestion the call sheets were disposed of improperly or discarded to conceal information from Justice Department investigators reviewing Gore's telephone solicitations. But any missing documents could be important if the investigators determine they cannot establish the full extent of Gore's fund-raising calls at the end of a 30-day review period ordered by Attorney General Janet Reno.

Reno opened the review earlier this month to determine whether she should seek the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate Gore's White House calls. Under the terms of the Independent Counsel Act, Reno could be required at the end of the 30 days to order a 90-day preliminary investigation of the Gore calls if investigators conclude that critical information is missing or might be obtained through further inquiry.

The 30-day review period expires Oct. 3, at which point Reno must close it down or order a formal preliminary investigation. Such an investigation would be the next step in the legal process Reno must follow before deciding whether to recommend appointment of an independent counsel.

Gore's attorneys had hoped that the Justice Department task force investigating the phone calls would concentrate on legal questions of whether a law barring fund-raising solicitations on federal property applies to the vice president or to calls made to people not on federal property. But one Gore associate said Thursday that the absence of orderly record-keeping in Gore's office would likely cause Reno to extend the 30-day review to a preliminary inquiry.

Gore's office was able to come up with copies of call sheets in 46 cases because Peter Knight, Gore's chief fund-raiser, kept copies and was present at most but not all of the nearly dozen sessions when Gore phoned for contributions to the Democratic National Committee. In a number of cases, a source said, Gore's attorneys had to rely on "Peter's memory" to determine whether Gore had solicited contributions from a particular person.

Officials said they could not be certain they have copies of all the call sheets or records of all calls made because there was no master list. The absence of such a list could complicate the effort of Justice Department and congressional investigators who are trying to assemble all the information on Gore's phone calls.

In all, some 125 individual call sheets were prepared for Gore by the Democratic National Committee. Each call sheet contained the name of the potential donor, professional position, history of previous giving to the DNC and other personal background. Some call sheets carried notes handwritten by Gore.

Heather Marabeti, Gore's executive assistant, said in a Sept. 3 deposition to the Senate committee investigating campaign finance irregularities that "calls that were completed, those sheets, we discarded." Asked if Gore himself kept a copy of the sheets, Marabeti said, "He did not He would give them back to Peter (Knight) or put them in his Out box, and we would discard them."

Ginny Terzano, Gore's press secretary, said Thursday that the record-keeping was the responsibility of the DNC. "We relied on the DNC, and copies of completed call sheets were returned to the DNC, generally through Peter Knight."

Earlier this year, a former senior DNC official involved in Gore's fund-raising calls listed five people, mostly wealthy businessmen, he believes Gore solicited who are not among the 46 individuals Gore's office identified in August.

The records released by the White House and Gore's office also add to the confusion. For example, a Feb. 6, 1996, call sheet prepared for President Clinton requested that he call Alice L. Walton, president of Llama Co. in Arkansas. "Ask her to contribute $100,000 to the DNC Media Fund," a notation on the call sheet said. "She wants to be certain that her contribution goes directly to support your campaign efforts."

In a recent interview, Walton said Clinton never called her to ask for a campaign contribution in any form. But she said Gore called her before the 1994 elections and asked for a contribution to help pay for the Democratic effort in the midterm elections.