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Page Three: Gore's Justice Department Interview
Q: And so this memorandum would have been prepared by someone other than you?
A: Correct. This was not prepared by me.
Q: But it would contain views that you held at the time?
A: Well, it would have, it would have contained recommendations by someone else as to what I could say in order to support his understanding of my views.
Q: The notion that, so we could "raise the money but only if the President and I actually do the events, the calls, the coffees, etc.," would that have been a view held by you at that time?
A: The general view that if we were willing to work hard enough we could raise more money than Harold Ickes thought we could, was a general view that I held, yes.
Q: And how did the events, the calls, and the coffees factor into that ability to raise more money?
A: Well, this was not prepared by me. This was prepared by, apparently by Ron Klain. But, among the activities that were intended to help raise the funds were telephone calls to potential donors to ask if they would contribute to the DNC.
And the coffees were in a somewhat different category, and I don't -- that was not an activity that I may have attended one. I don't know what the record reflects. But that was somewhat different and not -- that was -- I didn't lump them together this way.
Q: What was the purpose of the coffees?
A: Well, they were for the President to meet with people who were interested in supporting his policies and his politics. But that was more or less on his side of the house and I'm not the best source of information about that.
Q: In terms of a fund-raising tool, what was the purpose of the coffees?
A: I don't know. They were on his side of the house. And I will give you my understanding of what I thought they were. I thought they were events that allowed the President to spend time with influential people who wanted to talk about policy, who would at some later time possibly be asked to financially support the DNC. It was certainly not my understanding that they were fund-raising events.
Q: Did you have any understanding, or do you have any understanding that there was a price tag associated with the coffees?
A: No, I do not and did not.
Q: With respect to raising the $108 million, did you have discussions with anybody concerning the role coffees would play in raising that type of money?
A: Well, let me define the term "raising," if I could, because if you mean by it, would they be events at which money was raised, the answer is no.
But it is, it was then and has for a long time been common practice to have meetings with people who are interested in various subjects, spend time with them, cultivate the relationship, show them the respect that the time signifies, and then, on the basis of the relationship that is built up then and in other ways, ask them to support the DNC, or, if you're in the Senate or the House, your campaign fund.
But often it is assumed that you're going to have a hard time asking somebody to be a contributor if you have never met the person, spent time with the person, or had an opportunity to hear the person's views.
The coffees, as I understood them, were opportunities for the President to reach out to a larger number of people, spend time with them, hear their views, respond to questions, et cetera, and in that way build more relationships, some of which later on would be the basis for campaign solicitations from the DNC.
Q: When I use the term "coffee", in terms of raising the amount necessary for the DNC to succeed, I don't mean it in terms of money being contributed at the event. I mean it in terms of the coffee being a tool by which those funds are raised.
A: Well, it's the same definitional. I mean, they are, they were what they were. They were sessions for the exchange of ideas, during which, it was my understanding, that the President would cultivate a closer relationship with the individuals who were there. It was contemplated at the time when they were set up that some or many of those who participated in those sessions would later on be likely to be asked to contribute; but that this was a part of relationship-building, and the relationship-building in turn, had an impact on the likelihood that they would become donors later on.
Q: Did you have any conversation with the President about the income-generating function of the coffee --
A: No, not per se. Just in the way that I have described it to you previously. I attended meetings where the assumption was that the relationships built at these coffees would be such that some of those who attended would be more likely to be receptive at a later time, if they were solicited by the DNC.
Q: Are you familiar with Senator Thompson's committee investigation into alleged campaign finance abuses?
A: I've seen the news reports about it. I have not read the transcript of the committee report.
Q: Are you aware that they concluded that between November of '95 and August of '96, there were 103 White House coffees?
A: I'm not familiar with their conclusion.
Q: And that within a month of the coffees, over $7.7 million were contributed to the DNC. Are you familiar with that conclusion?
A: No, I'm not.
Q: Would it strike you as consistent with the theory of the coffee as being a fund-raising tool, as opposed to, I think what you were describing it as, as a donor-maintenance type event?
A: Well, I never heard them described as fund-raising tools. Again, I've described what I felt that their role was. And as to whether I agree or disagree with somebody else's label being placed on it, I hesitate to wordsmith it.
Q: Have you had a conversation with anybody about the cost to attend a White House coffee?
A: No. No, I -- it is not my -- it is my certain belief that I never heard anyone say that a particular amount of money was attached to attendance -- a particular amount of money that would later be anticipated to be raised by the DNC was attached to attendance at these events. I never heard anything remotely similar to that, and I would be very surprised if any such reference was made.
Q: You are not familiar with the cost of $50,000 being the --
Q: -- cost to attend the fundraiser?
A: Absolutely -- a coffee?
Q: A coffee?
A: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. And it is my belief that that would have been considered wildly inappropriate, if not worse, by those who talked about those coffees. They were not considered in that, in that way.
Now, there was, as I've said before, an anticipation that the relationships built during these sessions might make some of those people more conducive to making financial contributions when they were solicited at a later time.
But I would be shocked if, if any of my colleagues who participated in the meetings I was at, or any other meetings at the White House that I was not at, thought of those coffees in that way.
Q: What was your understanding as to how people were selected to attend the coffees?
A: I did not participate in selecting the people. I don't know.
Q: Did you ever have any conversation with someone at the DNC as to the criterion for selecting --
A: No, I did not.
Q: -- attendees? Did you have any conversation to that effect with anybody within the White House?
A: No, I did not.
Q: This talking point that says, "So we can raise" --
A: Now, hold on. I don't think that I did. But in scanning my memory, it's possible that somebody may have said, so-and-so is coming to an event and the President might have said, well, if he's coming, then make sure that so-and-so who has a, you know, represents a different part of the community, is also there, or we'll get, you know, we'll incur some political disadvantage for that reason.
I may have heard, I may have been in the room when a conversation like that took place. I have no specific memory of it. But --
Q: If a conversation like that took place, who would have been parties to that conversation?
A: Gee, this is really speculative, but the President and Harold Ickes and, and others in the room. I mean, that's but that's very speculative.
Q: This talking point, "So we can raise the money -- BUT ONLY IF -- the President and I actually do the events, the calls, the coffees, etc.", do you have a recollection making that, or expressing that idea to anyone?
A: No, not that specific thought. The general thought about if we, if we will take the time to get out there and do the hard work that is necessary, then we can be successful in this, I have expressed that general thought, yes.
Q: I understand that general thought, and that's very different than the particulars in this talking point. What I'm --
Q: -- trying to understand is whether you are the source for those talking points or not?
A: No, I'm not the source of these talking points.
Q: And would you have expressed the particulars contained in the talking point to anyone else, to your knowledge?
A: No. I don't think I was at the meeting that those proposed talking points were prepared for.
Q: Whether you were at that meeting or not, you're not aware that you had any conversation with Ron Klain or David Strauss with respect to the particulars of the talking points, that is, the coffees, the events?
A: No. No, I don't. I already told you that I've expressed the general point that I was engaged in a debate along with others about whether or not it was feasible to undertake to raise a DNC budget of the size that would be, that was contemplated. And I was of the general view that it was possible, but that it would require a lot of work. And I expressed that view on more than one occasion.
Q: I think you had indicated ---
A: I never, I never expressed the view that the coffees were a fund-raising tool.
Q: In your opinion, there simply was no quid pro quo of attendance at a coffee, payment to follow?
A: That is absolutely my impression. The connection that I described earlier --
MR. NEAL: Excuse me. Let me -
MR. CONRAD: Let the witness answer the question.
MR. NEAL: Okay-
BY MR. CONRAD:
Q: Go ahead.
A: If you want me to repeat my earlier answer, I will. But that's been done.
Q: You had indicated earlier that you may have attended one coffee. What were you talking about?
A: I was really talking about a session in which I was prepared for one of the previous interviews that you all conducted -- not you, but others conducted. And I was, I was vaguely remembering that during one of those preparation sessions I was told that, although it was not my practice to go to any of these coffees, there may have been one that I attended briefly, perhaps because some of the invitees were known to me and wanted to say hello to me.
Q: And who were those invitees?
A: I don't know. I'm sorry, I don't know.
Q: There's an interesting book about your life on the bookshelves these days called "Inventing Al Gore", by an author named Bill Turque. Are you familiar with that work?
A: I haven't read it, but I'm certainly familiar with it.
Q: In that book, that author indicates that you hosted 23 White House coffees and joined the President at eight others. Would that be an accurate statement?
A: I don't know.
Q: But certainly more than one?
A: I wouldn't necessarily take him as a, as --
Q: No, and I'm -
A: -- source.
Q: I'm not taking him as a source. What I'm saying would that perhaps refresh your recollection as to the number of coffees --
A: That seems --
Q: -- you attended?
A: That seems inaccurate to me. Far from the only inaccurate thing that has been quoted to me from that particular book. But, yes, that seems, that seems inaccurate to me.
Q: He refers to you as earning the reputation as solicitor-in-chief. Have you ever heard that title before?
A: I heard that title for the first time in a newspaper article by Bob Woodward, and it struck me as quite odd when he put that in the newspaper article, because I had never heard it prior to that time. I believe it to be completely unfair and inaccurate.
Q: Do you believe it to be related in any way to the White House coffees?
A: Oh, I know it's completely unrelated to the White House coffees. In fact, the article that I referred to -- you can find it for yourself -- was an article about the telephone calls, and that's what, that's what led Mr. Woodward to coin the phrase. I think that he alleged that someone else used the phrase in conversation with him, but I had never heard it before and the only time I've heard it since was either in direct or indirect reference to him using it, although it was often -- well, anyway.
Q: Let me ask --
A: When they write something, it becomes kind of conventional wisdom sometimes.
Q: Let me ask you about a statistic. I know you don't take the Thompson report as Gospel. But in the Thompson report --
A: Are you talking about the Republican report or the Minority report?
Q: Well, my guess is it's in the Majority report.
Q: It's page 41 of the report. So, that's more than likely the Majority report. It says, between November of '95 and August of '96, the White House hosted 103 coffees, taking in $26.4 million, of which $7.7 million occurred within one month of the coffee; that 60 of these coffees were DNC-sponsored.
Would you have reason to dispute those findings?
A: I would neither have reason -- I don't have reason to accept the findings. It is a highly-partisan document, as noted in the Minority report. But I have not reviewed it.
Q: Sitting here today, you don't have a concrete recollection of your attendance at any particular coffee, is that --
A: No, I don't. This was on the President's side of things. That's my memory and impression.
Q: Let me turn your attention to the meeting that you had with the Master Hsing Yun in the White House on March 15th of 1996.
Q: What is your recollection of how it came to be that that meeting took place?
A: Someone told me -- and I don't know if it was a verbal communication, a telephone communication, or a letter -- but someone informed me that he was coming to Washington, D.C. and would like very much to have the honor of a visit. And I remembered my visit with him in Taiwan and I agreed to spend a few minutes with him and to receive him.
Q: Do you recall setting up that meeting in a telephone conversation between yourself and Maria Hsia?
A: I don't believe that's how that took place. I don't believe that's how it took place. I believe that someone else informed me of it.
But I do remember a telephone call with Maria Hsia. I called her prior to finalizing the meeting because I was advised by Leon Fuerth that, notwithstanding my desire to say hello to this fellow and just do honor to the fact that he had received me in his home in his home base in Taiwan, that the Taiwanese elections were approaching, and that he was evidently associated with some minor candidate in the race. And that there was some risk of embarrassment if I inadvertently gave some publicity to one of the candidates in an election in Taiwan, just before the voting.
Q: And that was the reason for the call to Maria Hsia?
A: That is correct. I called her and I said, Maria, Hsing Yun is coming and I'd love to say hello to him and meet him, but I do not want to make a misstep here and create some press story in Taiwan, and I need your personal assurance that this is not any part of his reason for coming, and that it is not going to be used in that fashion in the elections. And she was emphatic in saying, oh, no, that's, I can absolutely assure you that that will
After that telephone call -- and that was the first time I had talked to her in quite a 1ong time. But I naturally thought of her because she was the one that was more or less in charge of that trip to Taiwan that I was on. And after that telephone call, I told Leon Fuerth that I felt certain that this was okay, wasn't going to be politically embarrassing in Taiwan; so let's go ahead
Q: Were you aware, prior to the meeting, that Maria Hsia had written Leon Fuerth about setting up the meeting?
A: That may have been the way that I found out about it. That may have been the way that I found out about it. I said earlier, I don't know if it was verbal, telephonic, or by letter. But by some way, shape, or form, I found out he was coming, and probably Leon told me.
Q: Let me show you a document marked MC, Government's MC, the last four Bates stamp numbers 1095. It's a letter From Maria Hsia to --
A: Do I have that?
Q: You should.
Q: March 22, 1996.
MR. TIMBERLAKE: Between M and N.
THE WITNESS: Between what?
MR. TIMBERLAKE: M and N.
THE WITNESS: Oh, yes, yes, yes. "You still look prosperous." He's lost weight since then.
MR. NEAL: Do we have that?
THE WITNESS: Here, I'll show you mine. Yes, I saw this letter yesterday when my counsel showed it to me. I did not see it prior to that.
BY MR. CONRAD:
Q: In the letter, Ms. Hsia says to Leon, that he, referring to Master Hsing Yun, "could be very helpful for Vice President Gore's re-election."
Do you recall whether or not you had any conversation with Mr. Fuerth about that sentiment?
A: No, I don't, but that would not refer to fund-raising. That would refer to his --
Q: I really --
A: Pardon me?
Q: I really don't know what it would refer to. I was asking you whether he had expressed that sentiment --
Q: -- to you at all? Okay.
Q: Who was at the meeting?
A: I believe the two of us, Leon Fuerth, Maria Hsia. I believe John Huang was there. I don't know who else.
Q: Why was John Huang there?
A: He - well, I assumed that he was there because he was one of the people who accompanied me to the -- on the first visit, along with Maria Hsia. And that since he was in the, in Washington that, that it was natural for him to be there.
Q: What was discussed at the meeting between yourself and Master Hsing Yun?
A: It was a renewal of the acquaintance, welcome to the United States. I was returning his hospitality to me. And the meeting was honorific in that sense. Toward the end of the meeting, he asked if I would visit the Hsi Lai Temple in Los Angeles. And I said, well, you know, this year I'm going to be in Los Angeles several times, and on one of those trips maybe I could come by.
Q: Anything else that you remember about the conversation between yourself and the Master?
A: No. No.
Q: Well, let me turn your attention to the Hsi Lai Temple.
A: All right.
Q: Before I do, I wanted to read you a couple of comments that you have made publicly with respect to that event.
On October 22nd of 1996, you told NPR's Nina Totenberg that you thought that event was a "community outreach." Then on January 14th of 1997, you told NBC's Katie Couric that you did not know it was a fundraiser, but "I knew it was a political event and I knew that finance people were going to be present."
Having said those two fairly different things, knowing that you're under oath today, can you tell me what you knew about the Hsi Lai Temple event and when you knew it?
A: Yes, I'll be glad to. At the time I went there, felt that it was a visit that was arranged pursuant to the desire I had expressed in the meeting with Hsing Yun to visit his Temple. I knew that the individuals who were his followers included Maria Hsia and John Huang. I felt that this visit was something they would be very pleased with because it showed honor to their community and to their place of worship, and that it was a source of community pride to them.
I knew when I arrived that the community was expressing exactly that pride with, for example, a marching band on the steps of the Temple from a local school. I met elected officials, including officials from the other political party, Republicans. I met neighborhood leaders from the surrounding neighborhood, including those who were beneficiaries of the charitable contributions and charitable work performed by the Temple.
That rang true to me because I had seen the work they had done, that they did on a regular basis, in the place that I had visited in Taiwan.
There was no solicitation of money. I did not see any money or checks change hands. I never heard it discussed. Nor do I believe it took place, incidentally. Perhaps you know that some money changed hands there. But to this day, I don't think any did.
In any case, the members of their faith community were all out on the steps of the inner courtyard, and it was a celebratory event that, to me, expressed the tremendous pride they felt in having a high-ranking official, a sitting Vice President of the United States, for the first time come to honor their community with a visit. It was as if -- the impression they gave me was that they felt that they were thereby arriving at a new plateau of acceptance in the larger community of Los Angeles.
We had a lunch. I made a speech. Bob Matsui, who is a close friend of mine, a congressman from California, who also played a role with the DNC finance operation, was also present. And he suggested to me -- I asked him for advice about my remarks. And he said that, he said the, something to the effect that this community wants to know that it's accepted in the United States. And I gave a speech that never mentioned anything to do with fund-raising or finance, because I did not understand it to be a fund-raising event. And then, and then I left.
And subsequent disclosures in the press and subsequent production of memoranda that I never saw at the time showed that -- showed what they showed. And the very fact, for me, the very fact that the members of a finance-related event were present at the event was the only connection that I had to the possibility that it was finance-related.
But I did not know that it was a fund-raiser. And I do not to this day know that it was a fund-raiser.
Q: What do you mean by "finance-related event"?
A: There were people, there were people associated with the DNC finance operation who were present at the event, and that, much like the original trip to Taiwan, there was an implicit assumption that the time spent, the honors shown, the communication that took place, all would create a warmer, friendlier relationship, a sense of closeness that would greatly enhance the likelihood that later on some of those who were present to see this visit would be more likely to say, I want to be a part of what this person is doing politically and I want to support the DNC.
Q: What finance people did you see there that would have been what you referred to as your only connection to the fact that it was a finance-related event?
A: Well, Bob Matsui I mentioned. And if you can show me the list of people who were there, it might refresh my recollection.
Q: When you refer to finance people who were there, do you have any independent recollection of who those people would have been?
A: The DNC people who were there, I think Don Fowler was there, I can't recall.
Q: When you told Katie Couric that you did not know it was a fundraiser but you knew it was a political event, what did you mean by the term "political event"?
A: It was an outreach to a politically active community in a political campaign year.
MR. NEAL: Do you want me to show him the -
MR. CONRAD: No, I'll show it to him in a little bit.
MR. NEAL: The briefing?
MR. CONRAD: Pardon me?
MR. NEAL: The briefing with the members attached?
THE WITNESS: No, he wants to wait on that.
MR. CONRAD: Pardon me?
MR. NEAL: The briefing with the members attached?
THE WITNESS: No, he wants to wait on that.
MR. CONRAD: Let's just wait on that.
BY MR. CONRAD:
Q: When you told her that you knew that there were finance people who were going to be present, did you mean that you knew ahead of time that DNC people were going to be present?
A: Well, let me think.
MR. NEAL: Bob, isn't this a little bit -- isn't it better -- well, can we go off the record a minute?
MR. CONRAD: Sure.
(Discussion off the record.)
BY MR. CONRAD:
Q: I'm trying to figure out whether prior to arriving --- you've just testified that when you arrived, you noticed some finance people there, and that was your only connection to the fact that it might have been a finance-related event. Is that a fair characterization of your testimony today?
A: I looked at a briefing paper immediately prior to going into the event. It was not the major event of the day. I gave a speech to ten or 15,000 people at the National Cable Television Association.
If you look at my schedule for the days preceding that day and the days following that day, it may give you some indication of what it was like to go from one event to the other, day after day after day, and to rely on a daily notebook full of briefing papers to inform you of what's next.
Typically, the day was so cram-packed that I did not have a chance at the beginning of the day to read completely through the briefing memos for every event. And after I caught my breath from making this speech, which was with slides and multi-media and one of the largest audiences I've ever addressed, after I caught my breath in the car I flipped, took out my notebook and flipped to the next event, and my immediate impression was, good, they finally, they were able to work out this visit to the Hsi Lai Temple; this ought to be interesting. Little did I know.
Then when I got there, there was a big brass -- we drove right up to the steps and there was a local high school marching band on the steps. But my impression and the knowledge that I had in my head when I went into that would have been shaped by the briefing paper that was in my notebook that I looked at just prior to the time when I went in.
Now, when I answered questions to the news media after the -- I mean, I gave my first recollections of what was going through my mind at the time. And then the Republican National Committee puts out this, that, and the other, and different documents get out into the news media, it becomes obvious to one and all that somebody knew that there were DNC finance people related, involved in this event.
And I can't remember the exact questions that each news interviewer asked me, but I'm happy to be accountable to you for each one of them, if you want me to go back and look at exactly what was going on in my mind when I did the television show or the radio show or the newspaper interview.
Q: The question I think that I asked, and I think you've answered it is, when did you learn that DNC people were going to be at this event?
A: I don't know. If you want me to refresh my recollection by looking at the memo, I've told you that that would have shaped my state of mind at the time I went into the event. It may have been reflected in that memorandum.
Q: Please go ahead and refresh your recollection by reading the briefing paper.
MR. NEAL: Do you want to mark it?
MR. CONRAD: Yes. For the record, let's mark the 302 that the Vice President used to refresh his recollection earlier as VPOTUS 2.
(VPOTUS Exhibit No. 2 was marked for identification.)
MR. CONRAD: Let's go ahead and mark this exhibit as VPOTUS No. 3.
(VPOTUS Exhibit No. 3 was marked for identification.)
(Discussion off the record.)
THE WITNESS: Yes. Here is, right at the -- near the top of the briefing, it says, "Meeting requested by the Democratic National Committee. Briefing prepared by Richard Sullivan, John Huang and Maura McManimon, with DNC Finance." So, that would have told me that this was finance-related.
But it is not -- you said, you expressed the opinion earlier that community outreach and finance-related are two very different things. That is your opinion. That is not necessarily a fact.
BY MR. CONRAD:
Q: When you use the word "If finance-related", what are you referring to?
A: The finance wing of the DNC had prepared the briefing. So, it was obviously related to the kinds of outreach efforts that were, what I thought were relationship-building and outreach to this particular community.
Now, again, you've said they are different things. Let me tell you why I don't think they are different things. If you are reaching out to a community that wants to be more involved in the political process, and one of the results of that outreach is going to be that they are going to be more likely to join the DNC Finance Council or make contributions at a later time to the Democratic National Committee, then it is both community outreach and finance-related, and that's what I thought this event was.
And, in fact, again, maybe you have evidence that, that money was given at the event. To this day, I don't know that it was. Was it?
Q: When you use the term "finance-related," are you using it in a synonymous sense with fund-raising?
Q: Or not?
Q: Would seeing the DNC on this briefing paper, DNC Finance, a briefing paper by Richard Sullivan, John Huang and Maura McManimon, with DNC Finance, would that have triggered in your mind the fact that this was a fund-raising event?
A: No. No.
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