Al Gore was lying when he invoked the "tinkle" defense, a Justice Department investigator said in a long-suppressed memorandum.
The vice president told the FBI he'd missed key parts of White House meetings where shady fund-raising schemes were discussed because he'd been drinking a lot of iced tea, and frequently had to get up to relieve himself.
What Mr. Gore said couldn't possibly be true, the prosecutor said, because the then deputy chief of staff, Harold Ickes, who ran the fund-raising meetings, would always stop them whenever President Clinton or Mr. Gore had to leave the room.
The prosecutor recommended that an independent counsel be named to investigate Mr. Gore's calls to contributors. His name was deleted from the memorandum when Attorney General Janet Reno belatedly turned it over to congressional investigators.
In another memo grudgingly turned over to Congress, FBI director Louis Freeh described Mr. Gore as an "active participant" in questionable fund-raising practices, and also called for appointment of an independent counsel.
"The evidence tends to show that the vice president was an active participant in the core group fund-raising efforts, that he was informed about the distinctions between 'hard' an'soft' money, and that he generally understood there were legal restrictions against making telephone solicitations from federal property," Mr. Freeh said.
Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore were key players in a 1996 fund-raising scheme designed to "raise money by whatever means and from whomever would give it, without meaningful attention to the lawfulness of the contributions," concluded Charles LaBella, then chief of the Justice Department's campaign finance task force, in a July, 1998, memo also recommending appointment of an independent counsel to probe fund-raising abuses.
The requests for an independent counsel were turned down by Ms. Reno. Two senior FBI agents have testified that an aide to the attorney general told them Ms. Reno's job was at stake in the fund-raising investigation.
Mr. Freeh tried again after a memorandum concerning a Nov. 21, 1995, White House fund-raising meeting surfaced. Notations by David Strauss, then deputy chief of staff to Mr. Gore, made it clear that Mr. Gore knew the DNC's media fund must finance its "issue" ads according to a "65 per cent soft/35 per cent hard" split, and that the DNC was planning to count the first $20,000 contributed by an individual as "hard" money. Thus, Mr. Gore had to know that every fund-raising call he made from federal property violated the law.
In a Nov. 20, 1998, memo, FBI General Counsel Larry Parkinson said there was sufficient evidence as matter of law that Mr. Gore had made a false statement when he told investigators he thought the media fund was composed solely of soft money.
Lying in a sworn statement is perjury, a felony. Four days after receiving Mr. Parkinson's memo, Ms. Reno told a federal judicial panel that "the evidence fails to provide any reasonable basis for a conclusion the vice president may have lied."
For her, the "tinkle" defense, however implausible, was enough to override the opinions of senior FBI officials and the head of her own task force.
Ms. Reno is now the longest serving attorney general in history. Is it any wonder why?
Jack Kelly is a member of The Blade's national bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org