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Text of Gore's Justice Department Interview

washingtonpost.com
Friday, June 23, 2000

The following is a transcript of Vice President Gore's April 18 interview with Robert J. Conrad Jr., chief of the Justice Department's campaign finance task force, which is investigating Gore's 1996 fundraising activities. The text was released today by Gore's staff.

P R O C E E D I N G S

WHEREUPON,

VICE PRESIDENT ALBERT GORE, JR. having been first duly sworn by the notary, was examined and testified as follows:

EXAMINATION BY COUNSEL FOR THE CAMPAIGN FINANCING TASK FORCE

BY MR. CONRAD:

Q: Mr. Vice President, for the record, would you just state your full name?

A: Albert Arnold Gore, Jr.

Q: For the record, I am Bob Conrad. I am the Chief of the Campaign Financing Task Force, with the Department of Justice. With me here today is Supervisory Special Agent Bart Boodee and Special Agent Greg Timberlake.

We are here today to ask you questions in the area of the Campaign Financing Task Force investigation. We will put questions to you and ask for your truthful and complete answers.

I have great respect for your office and for your time, and so I appreciate you making time for us today

If I could ask you to just briefly describe your political history, the positions you've been elected to and the years that you occupied offices?

A: I've been Vice President for seven years and two months and 28 days. Before that, I was a member of the United States Senate for eight years and 18 days. Before that, I was a member of the House of Representatives for eight years. Before that, I was a newspaper reporter.

Q: Thank you. I'm going to ask you a series of questions about various individuals and events that have occurred in approximately the last 12 years.

The first person I would like to ask you about is Maria Hsia. The first thing I would like to ask you about Maria Hsia is how long have you known her?

A: I've known her since January of 1989. I know from refreshing my recollection that I apparently met her prior to that time, but I have no independent recollection of that. If I did meet her prior to that time, it was just a brief hello-how-are-you.

But, in January of 1989, she was part of a group that hosted me and my foreign policy staffer and my administrative assistant in the United States Senate on a trip to and from Taiwan.

Q: Let me ask you first, describe her English-speaking abilities, Ms. Hsia. Was she proficient in English?

A: Yes. I believe her to be quite proficient in English, although with an accent on some words and maybe a shortage of the full range of vocabulary that a native English-speaker might have, but otherwise proficient.

Q: But over the years she has not had problems understanding you?

A: No.

Q: And you haven't had problems understanding her?

A: No. Again, some expressions might sound a little clipped as if English came to her as a second language. But, no, she communicates.

Q: Has she, over the years, performed translating services for you with respect to non English-speaking people?

A: I don't recall her doing that, no. Now, I can't say for sure that on that trip to Taiwan that there wasn't somebody that spoke in Chinese and she translated. I can't remember. Nor can I remember if she ever translated for Hsing Yun, the head of the --

Q: The Master?

A: Yes. Maybe she did. Maybe she did. Maybe she did that at the Hsi Lai Temple. I can't recall. But it's quite possible that she did.

Q: It would come as a surprise to you if, today, you were told she had at one time or another expressed difficulty understanding the English language?

A Yes. At least, it would come as a surprise to me to hear that she didn't understand what I was saying to her, because she always seemed to understand what I said to her. But I can't speak with regard to others.

Q: You mentioned a trip that you took to Taiwan with her and others in 1989. If I could direct your attention prior to that time, did she host any fundraisers for you prior to that trip?

A: No.

Q: Would you tell me how that trip came about?

A: Nor -- when you say prior to that trip, just in implication in the phrasing of that question is that fundraiser, that trip was not -- it was not a fundraiser. At least I didn't know it. If it was I didn't know it was.

Q: Actually, there was no implication at all.

A: Okay.

Q: I was trying to get my chronology together.

A I just wanted to be sure.

Q Prior to the trip there, she did not host any fundraisers for you?

A: No.

Q: How did that trip come about?

A: My administrative assistant, Peter Knight, called me during my family Christmas vacation, either in late December of 1988 or early January 1989, and informed me that there was, in his view, a great opportunity for me to form a strong relationship with an influential group of Asian Americans who wanted to become active in politics.

Peter Knight, as my administrative assistant, was also a political activist in my behalf and met with people who were politically important for one reason or another on my behalf.

In any case, the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, according to what Peter Knight told me, had arranged a trip to Taiwan and I don't know if -- I believe that he told me in this first communication that there were other cities involved also. I later, either then or later found out that they were Hong Kong and Jakarta. I believe I'm correct on that. And that a number of Democratic Senators had given the impression somehow that they were going on this trip, and yet all of them had cancelled their participation in the trip.

This led to what he characterized as an opportunity for the following reasons. This group of Asian Americans, anxious to become involved in politics, were all angry at the DSCC and were, as a result of that anger, proposing not only to cancel any plans they might have to raise money for the Democratic Senate candidates, but instead to actually start raising money for the Republican committee that was the Democratic committee's counterpart.

That meant that, in Peter's mind, I had a chance to do a big favor for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and, at the same time, by helping these individuals save face in not having to cancel this trip they had laboriously prepared, including with contacts in the places they were going to visit, cause them to feel very warmly toward me because I pulled their irons out of the fire.

I said to Peter that I would consider it, but that I had other plans in January. I was going to the Amazon Rain Forest, and I can't remember what else, but I could not do the whole trip. If I could fill this hole in their plans and help them save face and bail out the DSCC by going just to Taiwan, then, yes, I would consider it. I had never been there. I thought it would be an interesting trip. And so I was willing to go through all the travel necessary for a short stay there, because I felt like I could hit several birds with one stone.

Now, I know from refreshing my recollection that Peter apparently knew about this prior to the telephone call over the Christmas vacation. To my knowledge and memory he did not talk to me about it before that telephone call when I was in my kitchen at my farm in Carthage, Tennessee. And, again, that was either in late December or early January.

Q: So, after the conversation with Peter Knight, did you have any contact with any of the people who were sponsoring the trip?

A: I don't think I did until I met, until I met them. I think I met them either at the airport or on the plane.

Q: What did you know about the Pacific Leadership Council at that time?

A: Nothing.

Q: Did you know that this influential group of Asian Americans who wanted to become active in politics were formally associated as the Pacific Leadership Council-?

A: I don't think I knew that. Now, if they gave me a list of the people on the trip, which identified them as members of that group, then perhaps I would have seen the name. But the name meant nothing to me.

My impression was that they were Asian Americans, anxious to get involved for the first time in politics, and to help out the DSCC.

Q: Did Peter Knight mention any specific names to you when he told you about this trip?

A: If he did, they wouldn't have had any meaning for me. My memory is that he did not. No, I don't think that he did.

Q: So, as I understand it, your motivation for going on the trip was both to do a favor for the DSCC and to cultivate a relationship with a group of people that you were going overseas with?

A: That's correct.

Q: Was there any other motivation for it?

A: Just that I had never been to Taiwan, and I wouldn't have gone under those circumstances and for such a short -- you know, the long walk for a short drink of water. I would have done it in a different way. But that was an extra, small factor in going.

Q: What did you do on the trip?

A: Went to the Nationalist Chinese Museum. I met with President Li. I do not know if my foreign policy advisor, Leon Fuerth, set that up or if my traveling companions were able to set that up. I just don't know.

What else? Toured the, city of Taipei I attempted to make some business contacts on behalf of my home state of to -- I mean one of the standard purposes for such a trip these days is to try to get somebody to put a factory in your home state and create some jobs. I believe that I made some efforts of that sort.

We took a side trip to Kaohsiung, the second city. And if you're getting to that in your next questions, I'll hold off on that.

I'm trying to think what else.

Q: Did you visit the Fo Kuang Shan Temple?

A: Yes. That was in Kaohsiung. We flew down to the second city of Taiwan principally for that reason.

Q: Did you meet the Master Hsing Yun at that time?

A: I did.

Q: Describe what you recall about your conversations with him.

A: I was quite favorably impressed by him. He described the work of the Temple. He placed a lot of emphasis on the work they did in reaching out to the poor and disadvantaged in the surrounding area where the thing was located.

He was very proud of an exhibit that they had that depicted different religious stories in Buddhism in a kind of a diorama-type way, life-size sculpted figures. I don't know what they were made out of, but it was this sort of tableaus, one after the other.

The most significant part of it was the conversation with him, which was mainly about, as I recall it anyway, theological issues. Having been a student at the Graduate School of Religion at Vanderbilt, I was asking him a lot of questions about aspects of his faith that I knew nothing about. And it was quite an interesting conversation and made an impression on me.

I had a very positive impression of him as a person, and I felt that his underlying basic motivations were very positive and impressive. He seemed like a pastor would -- I mean, a good pastor would be in my faith tradition, and seemed to have a genuine, a quite genuine feeling of compassion for the people that they were reaching out to, feeding, clothing, et cetera.

Q: Was there discussion about the Hsi Lai Temple in the United States or his faith's presence in the United States?

A: Yes. Yes, he told me toward, I think it was toward the end of the conversations that he had constructed the largest Buddhist temple in North America, and that it was in Los Angeles and that he would love for me to visit there sometime. And I said, well, if I ever have the opportunity, perhaps I can. And that was the extent of it.

Q: Was there any conversation with him or any of the other people that you met over there, including political figures or businessmen, concerning fund-raising?

A: No. No.

Q: Was there any discussion with the Master about, participation of any devotees of the Temple with any political activity in the United States?

A: No.

Q: What was your understanding of the financial sponsorship of the trip to Taiwan? Who was paying for it?

A: I thought that the group was, the group of traveling companions were paying for it, and I believe they were. We asked -- well, I don't know. I don't know. But I believe that they were paying for it.

We asked, we formally requested that the Senate, the U.S. Senate Ethics Committee review the financing of the trip in advance of the trip ever being taken. And I was told that it had been reviewed by the Ethics Committee and that everything was on the up-and-up. It was only after that --

Q: That you agreed to go?

A: That I agreed to go, yes.

Q: Did you have any knowledge at that time that the Temple was funding the trip?

A: I don't believe I did. I don't believe I did.

Q: Apparently part of the group that you were with was continuing on from Taiwan, as you said, to Hong Kong --

A: Yes.

Q: -- and Jakarta. Do you know who the financial sponsorship came from for that part of the trip?

A: No, I did not know. But I did know the name Riady, because I believe that his name was on one of the manifests or list of people on the trip that I received either immediately before the trip or during the first leg of the trip. And then he did -- then he never showed up. And I remember being told at one point, probably by Maria Hsia but I don't know for sure which one of them told me, that Mr. Riady was not going to be able to accompany us. And it was of no importance to me. I didn't know him and didn't know why he wasn't there, still don't.

But I believe that -- I don't know if they asked me to reconsider going on to Jakarta. I don't think so, because it was clear in my mind that they were very pleased that I could make the one stop, and that they didn't reopen the question of going on. But it was my impression -- and I'm sure it was because they told me -- that they were going to be seeing him in Jakarta, maybe Hong Kong also, I just don't know.

But, no, I did not know -- to answer your question specifically, I did not know who would finance the part of the trip that I was not on.

Q: Was that the first time you had heard the name Riady?

A: To my knowledge it was, yes.

Q: And was that James Riady?

A: I believe it was, yes. I would have recognized -- the other name would have stuck out.

Q: Mochtar?

A: Yes.

Q: As being more unusual than James?

A: Well, I think I would have remembered that name. I think it was James Riady. But I'm not sure. Riady is unusual enough.

Q: Now, during the trip out there and the time in Taiwan, did you have an opportunity to engage Maria Hsia in much conversation?

A: Yes.

Q: What kind of things did you talk about?

A: Oh, Taiwan, Chinese culture, city of Taipei.

Q: What did you learn about her motivations and aspirations in terms of being involved in this group and taking this trip?

A: I don't know if I learned this during the trip or afterwards. But I came to understand that one of the issues that she was very interested in was immigration. Her husband, I guess they've been divorced since then --

Q: Would that be Howard Hom?

A: Yes. I believe that he was on the trip also. I think it was later on that I came to understand that the immigration issues were ones that she was most interested in. But I don't -- I really do not remember talking with her about those issues on this trip. I can't say that we didn't, but I don't remember it.

Q: And then apparently you left the group and they went on to Hong Kong and Jakarta?

A: I am assuming that they went on to where they say they were going on. I have no independent verification of that. But I traveled back with Leon Fuerth and Peter Knight to the United States.

Q: I'm going to --

A: There was a California elected official named Leo McCarthy --

Q: Who was on the trip?

A: -- who was on the trip as well. And I think that he went on with them. But I'm not sure of that either.

Q: We have prepared a book of some exhibits, which we tendered to your attorney prior to our meeting today. I wanted to go through a couple of the exhibits. In true government fashion, they are not the most polished of exhibits, but they are marked by numbers, and I hope the numbers correspond with the numbers in my book.

A: Okay.

Q: Let me turn your attention to Exhibit C.

A: All right.

Q: And ask you if you would read the Bates stamp number at the bottom of the exhibit, so that I can make sure that --

A: A0435-0474-04-26, and the rest of it is faded out.

Q: Does it appear to be a letter dated November 22, 1988 by Maria Hsia?

A Yes.

Q: If I can ask you to just take a moment to read that letter?

A: Yes.

Q: And I'll ask you if you are familiar with its contents.

MR. NEAL: Excuse me just a moment. Will these be made exhibits to the deposition?

MR. CONRAD: Yes.

MR. NEAL: Because I was going to point out that this is attention to Peter Knight.

MR. CONRAD: We will make the exhibits a part of the deposition.

THE WITNESS: Her proficiency in English is not as good as I remember it.

BY MR. CONRAD:

Q: Fair enough. Have you seen this letter before?

A: Not until my counsel showed it to me yesterday in preparation for this meeting.

Q: Okay. Would your conversation with Peter Knight have occurred after this letter, do you think?

A: Yes, I'm pretty sure it did.

Q: And did he tell you, in that conversation telling you about the trip, that the expenses would "be distributed by a cultural organization in Taiwan, a cultural organization in Indonesia and all the individual members"?

A: You're talking about the conversation over the Christmas vacation?

Q: Yes, the one in which you told me that Peter Knight informed you about --

A: Yes.

Q: -- this opportunity?

A: I don't know. I do know that both he and I wanted to make sure that the financing was reviewed by the Senate Ethics Committee. I believe we've got a written and signed opinion on it. That would have diminished any motive I had to inquire into the details of it. I assumed that the individuals organizing the trip were paying for it.

But if he had told me that the cultural organization was -- guess "distributed" means participating in the expenses -- if he told me that, I have no memory of it. He could well have, but I don't remember it.

Q: The letter is addressed to you, but lists "Attention: Peter Knight".

A: Right.

Q: Apparently you have no recollection of, actually having read the letter prior to your --

A: This is not the kind of --

Q: -- preparation for today?

A: --- letter that I would read.

Q: Okay. The letter states, "The purpose of this trip is planned for recruiting more DSCC members in the future". Was that communicated to you at the time of the trip?

A: In rough outline, not with such precision. But clearly, one of the principal purposes of the trip was to cultivate support for the DSCC. I mean, that's why I made the trip, I mean, one of the principal reasons why I made the trip.

Q: There's a reference in the letter to an occasion where Ms. Hsia met you at Mrs. Harriman's house. Is that event familiar in your mind today?

A: No, it's not. I referred to it obliquely in an earlier response. By way of explanation, "Mrs. Harriman" refers to Mrs. Pamela Harriman, now deceased, who during these years ran an organization called Democrats for the '80s out of her house in Georgetown, former Ambassador Averell Harriman's house. And I guess he was still alive at this time.

She had a regular series of large gatherings to build support for recapturing Democratic control of the House and Senate. And a typical event at her home would have perhaps 100 people, half a dozen elected officials, maybe some dignitaries of some other kind, former Cabinet members or something. And guests would sit for a policy exchange of views between a couple of people, and then go out to a tent and have dinner.

It would be my customary practice, if I was one of the people attending such a meeting, and I attended several, to briefly say hello to as many of the people there as possible. And I am assuming from this letter that I met her on one such occasion. But I have no independent memory of it.

Q: She also says that if you joined the trip she would persuade "all my colleagues in the future to play a" leadership "role in your future presidential race."

A: Actually, you're buffing up her English a little bit. Persuade "all my colleagues in the future to play a leader role in your future presidential race."

Q: Did you have conversations with her on the trip along those lines?-

A: No, I don't remember any such conversations. But, remember that in the year 1988 I had just completed a presidential race and it was a cross between courtesy and flattery to speak of a possible future race.

Q: Let me turn your attention to Exhibit I, which is a document with Bates stamp number A0435-0474-04-25IM, is it not?

A: Yes.

Q: I would ask you to take a moment to look at that document and tell me whether you recognize this.

A: Only from my counsel showing it to me yesterday in preparation for this session. It appears to be a machine rendition of my signature, and that would imply that I did not see it when I am supposed to have signed it.

Q: It refers to being at least drafted on the plane on your return trip from Taiwan, does it not?

A: Yes, you are receiving the impression this letter is intended to convey.

Q: Does it express the thoughts that you held at the time that it was composed?

A: Well, let me read it more carefully to ascertain that.

In the first paragraph, no, I was actually glad I was not with them on the rest of the voyage.

Q: Having been to Jakarta, I would share your sentiments.

A: The statement that the "meetings with the government and business leaders were fascinating" appears to be an overstatement, as does the description of the visit to the Fo Kuang Shan facility as being "almost overwhelming," although I was quite impressed with what I saw there.

Let's see, "enduring friendships." I would never have let a letter get out with this misspelling. I'm a stickler to a fault on such things, "generosity," the misspelling of that word.

Let's see. The statement that it was "the most enjoyable trip I have ever taken" is an overstatement.

But all of the overstatements that I've noted are Within the customary bounds of this particular form of communication.

Q: After that trip, did Ms. Hsia host any fundraisers you in the balance of that year?

A: Yes.

Q: What do you recall?

A: I recall a fundraiser for my Senate reelection in Los Angeles at the home of one of the other companions.

Q: Would that have been Ms. Tina Bow?

A: Yes.

Q: Was that the next opportunity that you had to met Maria Hsia?

A: I believe it was.

Q: Do you recall today how much money that fundraiser made for you?

A: My memory is that it was something like $20,000. I remember thinking at the time that it was a little out of keeping with the high expectations I had for this dynamic new group chomping at the bit to be active participants in the political process, but I was grateful nonetheless, although I recounted the many hours on the airplane to and from Los Angeles, and couldn't help but add in the many hours to and from Taiwan.

Q: Let me turn your attention to Exhibit E, with Bates stamp number A0435-0474-04-2262. It bears the date of March 20, 1989.

A: All right.

Q: I'll ask you if you have had a chance to look at this document prior to this examination?

A: Again, my counsel showed it to me yesterday. I do not believe that I saw it prior to that time.

Q: It references a proposed fundraiser, or a lunch with Senator Al Gore, fund-raising at the Sostanza Restaurant on April 30th of 1989. Do you recall that event?

A: No, I certainly don't. Let me give you a little background. On April 3rd, 1989, my son was seriously injured and I spent the following month in the critical care unit and then his hospital room at Johns Hopkins Hospital. I can speculate on this, if you wish me to, but I have no memory of the event.

Q: Is your speculation that you think that it was either rescheduled or cancelled?

A: That's my speculation.

Q: In the next month, did you attend a fundraiser in California put on by Maria Hsia?

A: Yes.

Q: If I could turn your attention to Exhibit F?

MR. NEAL: Could you just give a brief description of it for us?

MR. CONRAD: Yes.

MR. NEAL: The May 23, '89 letter?

MR. CONRAD: Yes.

BY MR. CONRAD:

Q: The last four Bates stamp numbers would be 1975. Do you have that letter in front of you?

A: I do.

Q: Would you describe that letter for me?

A: It appears to be a letter from me to Maria Hsia briefly thanking her for a contribution to my Senate reelection campaign in 1990. It appears that it is signed neither by me nor by the individual who frequently signed my name to such letters.

The letterhead is not official, but campaign letterhead. So, this would have been handled not out of my Senate office, but out of the campaign operation. And 18 months before the election, that would have been a small operation. So, I don't know who wrote this or signed it.

Q: Would it have been following the fundraiser that Ms. Hsia would have hosted for you?

A: I don't know. I speculate that it was. What was the date of the fundraiser?

Q: Well, I believe it was May 21st.

A: Yes. It would almost certainly be one of a stack of routine thank-you letters going to every person who was on the list. It does not bear any particular thanks for her role, above and beyond the mere contribution for the work that I knew that she did in asking her friend to have it at her house and inviting people and so forth.

But this is a routine thank-you that I'm almost certain went to every person who contributed.

Q: On May 25th, she wrote you a letter, which is Government's Exhibit G in that book. I'll ask you to take a look at that. The last four Bates stamp numbers on that letter are 1974.

A: Yes.

Q: It's a letter from Maria Hsia to The Honorable Al Gore. Are you familiar with that letter?

A: No, I'm not, other than, as with the previous letter, from the opportunity that my counsel gave me to look at it yesterday.

Q: She indicates in there, "I would also like to see you become one of the senators closest to the Asian Pacific community. But for that to occur, we need time and a special commitment (sic) from each other."

Do you have any present sense or understanding of what she meant by that?

A: No, I don't. I can speculate, if you wish me to.

Q: Well, based upon your relationship with her and things that were going on at that time, if you have an understanding of what she meant, that would be fine.

A: Well, I don't know what that phrase means. But I do know that it's common for a group like this to want to have conversations every so often, so they can convey their opinions. And I assume that what she meant was a commitment of a regular amount of time to share thoughts and whatnot.

Q: You mentioned earlier that she had a particular interest in immigration. Did she, back in 1989, have occasion to discuss with you immigration-related legislation?

A: I don't -- I don't specifically recall that. But I do know, as I mentioned earlier, that at some point it certainly became clear to me that that was an issue that was important to her. And many families, according to her, were experiencing distress because relatives couldn't join their Loved ones in this country, and that was the nature of the face she put on that issue.

Q: Let me turn your attention to Exhibit D, which bears the last four Bates stamp numbers 1931. It's a letter on Maria Hsia's stationery addressed to Leon Fuerth, Office of Senator Gore. It's dated December 19, 1989. I'11 ask you if you're familiar with that letter?

A: To my knowledge, the first time I saw this letter was when Mr. Neal showed it to me yesterday.

Q: It refers apparently to some matter that your office referred to her, in terms of assistance in immigration matters, does it not?

A: Yes.

Q: Do you have any independent recollection of that matter or that letter, other than having reviewed it --

A: No.

Q: -- recently?

A: No.

Q: Did Ms. Hsia indicate to you in 1989, other than in this letter, that she hoped that you would investigate charges of misconduct at AIT, American Institute in Taiwan?

A: I have no memory of that.

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