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Gore, Under Focus, Shows Support

By Terry M. Neal
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 23, 1998; Page A21

Vice President Gore said yesterday he believes President Clinton's assertions that he is innocent of allegations of having sex with a former White House intern and encouraging her to lie about it.

"The president has denied the charges, and I believe it," Gore told a small group of newspaper columnists in his White House office.

"He has said he will cooperate fully with the independent counsel. And you will see that that is exactly what he does," Gore said after one of the columnists asked whether he thought the new allegations against the president were "serious."

"Beyond that, he is not only the president of the country, he is my friend," he added.

The statement was Gore's first public show of support for the president since the allegations became public on Wednesday morning.

Gore went on to praise the president for being able to "maintain his focus on the agenda he has been pursuing on behalf of the American people, in spite of challenges in policy and political ideological areas, in spite of attacks of various kinds. He has maintained his focus now."

The remarks, which were made to about a half-dozen columnists at a previously scheduled interview, were a departure from what has been a determined effort by the vice president and his staff to stick to business as usual.

That has sometimes been difficult to accomplish, as Gore finds himself under increased focus. Republicans and even some Democrats have begun to talk openly of the possibility that Clinton could be impeached -- which would immediately make Gore president.

The awkwardness of his position was on display earlier yesterday at an event to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Part of Kate Michelman's duties were to introduce Gore to the large crowd gathered in Washington's Omni Shoreham hotel.

"He has taken the time today, out of an enormously demanding schedule -- I mean, Arafat's in town, Netanyahu . . . and a few other things," said Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, smiling wryly. "And he is here. He is here with us today. That's commitment."

Michelman's joke needed no explanation, no expounding. Many in the crowd snickered. Gore could not escape news that has overshadowed everything in recent days.

The vice president stepped to the lectern and, in a business-like tone, stayed on script without even the slightest acknowledgment of the issue.

Gore began by recognizing administration officials, politicians and other important people in the crowd, before launching right into his speech: "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm deeply honored to be with you today to help you mark a quarter century of a woman's right to choose in this nation. A women's right to make what for many feels like the most important decision of their lives in freedom, in safety, and without the coercion of government."

Gore's press secretary, Ginny Terzano, said Gore had no plans to modify his public schedule or modify White House business.

"There is serious business going on at the White House," she said, noting preparations for Clinton's upcoming State of the Union speech and visits by foreign dignitaries.

"There are a lot of issues on that table that can't be ignored because of this other news story," Terzano said.

Privately, even his close political associates are keeping a low profile, with a half-dozen failing to return phone calls for this article.

At an event Wednesday night, Gore did make a quip that seemed at least an oblique reference to the scandal.

He was speaking at a dinner at the Freedom Forum's Newseum, which this week opened an exhibit commemorating the Associated Press's 150th anniversary. During the speech, he recalled a practical joke played on him by colleagues during his days as a newspaper reporter in Tennessee.

After receiving several phone calls about the death of a Swedish gynecologist named Trebla Erog, Gore finally figured out that the name was his spelled backward. The prank taught him an important lesson, he said.

"Don't believe everything you hear on the telephone," he said, drawing laughter from the audience of news executives. "It's really a lesson worth re-learning from time to time."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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