President Clinton said today he sees no logical explanation for the recent rise in Midwestern gasoline prices, and he called for "a vigorous inquiry" by the Federal Trade Commission.

Jumping into an issue that's at the forefront of the presidential campaign, Clinton endorsed Vice President Gore's call to examine whether oil companies have engaged in price gouging. He said it was suspicious that Midwest gasoline prices quickly dropped as soon as the FTC investigation was announced.

"I have a lot of concerns about the speed with which this [price] run-up occurred," Clinton told White House reporters shortly before leaving for a fundraising trip to Arizona. "I expected some upward pressure on prices because our economy's doing well and because the Asian economy is coming back, the European economy is coming back, so there will be a bigger global demand for oil . . . But it doesn't explain by a long stretch the dramatic increase in prices.

"The best evidence to support the statement the vice president has made is that two days after the call went out for the Federal Trade Commission to investigate this, there was a 16-cent a gallon drop in the price of the oil at the refinery level," Clinton said. "Now, that hasn't manifested itself at the pump yet because it takes time for this oil to be refined and to be distributed and to be sold as fuel. But I'm very concerned about it."

Gore said on the campaign trail Wednesday: "It's time to put our feet on the brakes of what may well be big oil's price gouging."

Clinton today partly blamed the Republican-controlled Congress for tight fuel supplies. He complained that Congress has not reauthorized the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which he said "ties the president's hands." The reserve can be tapped to increase the supply of petroleum.

He also said Congress should appropriate more money for "research and development into alternative energy, into the partnership for new generation vehicles."