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FBI Questions Clinton, Gore

November 12, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Taking their investigation to the highest level, FBI agents and federal prosecutors interrogated President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore about questionable campaign fund-raising calls.

The interviews _ which took place Tuesday but were not disclosed until Wednesday _ came three weeks before Attorney General Janet Reno must decide whether to seek a special prosecutor to carry the investigation beyond the preliminary stage.

Neither Clinton nor Gore was under oath, although it is a felony in any case to lie to the FBI. Both men have publicly denied any wrongdoing.

Clinton was questioned at length by two FBI agents and four Justice Department prosecutors in the presidential study on the second floor of the White House residence, the same place where he was interviewed earlier in the Whitewater probe. Gore was interviewed at the vice presidential mansion.

``We answered all of their questions,″ Clinton attorney David Kendall said.

``It was a very professional interview. The FBI asked all the questions they wanted to ask _ every one _ and the vice president answered every one of them,″ Gore’s attorney, Jim Neal, said in an interview from his Tennessee office.

The two attorneys declined to comment further, specifically refusing to say how long the interviews lasted.

The interviews were a dramatic step in Reno’s investigation of whether Clinton or Gore violated a 114-year-old law barring solicitation of campaign contributions in federal office buildings.

With Democrats and Republicans trading accusations about improper fund raising, the case has become politically charged.

Republicans are demanding that Reno request an independent counsel, which could expose Clinton and Gore to questions about White House influence over Democratic National Committee TV ad strategies and alleged attempts by China to influence American elections. The inquiry also would shadow Gore’s bid to succeed Clinton in 2001.

Reno’s investigation began after it became known that some of the contributions solicited as ``soft money″ for general party advertising were later spent by Democratic Party officials on more direct ``hard money″ efforts to re-elect the president. Investigators are trying to determine if Clinton and Gore were responsible for, or even aware of, that shift.

Gore has acknowledged making dozens of fund-raising calls from his office. While asserting that they were legal, he says he would not do it again.

Clinton has said it is possible he made such calls but he can’t recall whether he did. Telephone logs indicate he did.

Presidential spokesman Mike McCurry referred questions about Tuesday’s interviews to Clinton’s and Gore’s attorneys.

McCurry suggested that Americans would not be alarmed about the interviews. ``He’s given depositions in other matters before. I think that Americans know they (Clinton and Gore) have agreed to cooperate.″

In other developments:

_Reno was expected to decide by Thursday whether to extend for another 60 days a Justice Department review of allegations that Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt allowed political considerations to influence a decision about Indian gambling.

The preliminary inquiry could lead to appointment of an independent counsel to investigate the allegations that Interior killed a plan by three Wisconsin tribes to open a gambling casino because of political contributions by rival tribes opposed to the plan.

_Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, has agreed to let Democratic fund-raiser Johnny Chung appear at a closed session Friday. Chung is expected to invoke his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. But chief counsel Richard Bennett has argued that Chung’s statements in news interviews should not be protected.

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