By John F. Harris
With an apparent tug from the bull market on Wall Street, the first family in 1997 saw their assets climb significantly from the year before, financial disclosure forms released by the White House yesterday show. The disclosure statement shows the Clintons with holdings of $1,262,018 to $5,756,000, compared with $760,000 to $1.7 million a year before. The gains came largely in blind trusts in which the Clintons do not participate in decisions or even know in which stocks and bonds their money is invested.
Despite these gains, the Clintons' overall financial picture remains far from sunny, thanks to ever-rising legal bills. The disclosure forms show the Clintons with about $3 million in outstanding bills to law firms, and sources familiar with their defense say this figure has risen markedly since the first of the year.
In contrast to Clinton, Vice President Gore's disclosure form reveals an oddity: He is one of the few Americans in his income bracket who is not participating in the great stock market run-up of the 1990s. The Gore family, with total assets ranging from $770,000 to $870,000, do not own stocks or mutual funds or have money managed for them in blind trusts.
The family's main assets are a house and farm in Carthage, Tenn., as well as a house in Arlington. (the Gores made $16,800 in rent on the Arlington property last year). Also, the vice president owns leasing rights to the zinc that is mined on the Carthage property -- an asset that is valued at $100,000 to $250,000 and that last year generated $20,000 in income.
Last year's disclosure statements showed the Gores with assets ranging between $880,000 to $1.1 million, a drop from 1996. One difference this year, according to a White House official familiar with Gore's finances, is that he incurred nearly $100,000 in legal debts defending himself against allegations related to the campaign finance controversy.
In a statement, Gore spokesman Christopher S. Lehane said the vice president has taken out a loan from a Carthage bank to pay the legal fees. The Justice Department last year concluded an investigation by deciding there was no basis for appointing an independent counsel to examine Gore fund-raising calls in 1996.
Clinton has not taken out loans to pay his legal bills. Instead, he and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton have established a defense fund to solicit contributions.
A White House official cautioned against concluding that the Clintons enjoyed a windfall in 1997. The disclosure statements, mandated under federal law, require officials to report the value of their investments in broad ranges. The blind trust run on behalf of Hillary Clinton by Boston-based Pell Rudman Trust Co. last year appreciated enough to move from one category -- reflecting a value of between $500,000 and $1 million -- to the next highest category, reflecting a value of between $1 million and $5 million.
A White House official said the actual value of the first lady's blind trust is slightly more than $1 million, and that the total value of the Clintons' assets is closer to the $1.2 million floor than the $5.7 million ceiling. The official said he presumes the trusts are invested in stocks or mutual funds but that only the trustees know for sure.
Clinton's disclosure statement also reflected nearly $15,000 in gifts accepted by the first family. There was some $900 worth of golf paraphernalia from pro Greg Norman, a $1,200 set of leather-bound books from Oprah Winfrey, three sweaters worth $510 from designer Ralph Lauren, as well as a $500 framed photograph of Eleanor Roosevelt from Balkans special envoy Richard Holbrooke.
The statement also reveals that Buddy, the family's chocolate Labrador, was a gift valued at $750.
In addition, the statement shows that Chelsea Clinton accepted $1,027 in Coca-Cola stock as a high school graduation gift from New York businessman Walter Kaye. He is the man who recommended Monica S. Lewinsky for a White House internship in 1995.
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