The top aides to President Clinton and Vice President Gore delivered a sharp message to senior White House staff yesterday: Stop spreading rumors about tensions between the two camps.
Addressing their respective staffs, White House Chief of Staff John D. Podesta and Gore's chief of staff, Ron Klain, assured aides that Clinton and the vice president are as friendly as ever and the gossip better come to a halt.
"The message was, 'Knock it off,' " said Lynn Cutler, a senior adviser to Podesta, who attended both morning meetings.
Podesta and Klain were forced to tamp down reports of feuding between the Clinton and Gore factions after stories published over the weekend described the president as upset over Gore's efforts to distance himself from Clinton's personal behavior.
Podesta, according to a senior White House official at the meeting, waited until the end of the staff meeting, then sternly addressed his colleagues. He said the reports of friction between Clinton and Gore "were B.S.," this official said, and ordered the group "to stop gossiping and speculating" about the relationship.
Because of travel schedules, Clinton and Gore have not seen each other for more than two weeks. On Saturday, they spoke by phone about the reports of tension between them. "They're fine," said one official who spoke with Clinton afterward.
Gore aides said the vice president was displeased that media attention continues to focus on internal maneuvering and warring factions rather than on the issues he is trying to campaign on.
"I'm frustrated folks feel they need to create drama where there is none," Cutler said. "The working relationship between the two sides is good."
The president, according to several sources within and outside the White House, bridled while traveling in Europe earlier this month about Gore's efforts to separate himself from Clinton's scandal-tarred personal history. While not directly denying the reports of Clinton's steaming, White House officials said the fundamental relationship remains solid. "Don't believe everything you read in the newspaper," said White House press secretary Joe Lockhart.
Asked at yesterday's daily news briefing whether the relationship is "strained," Lockhart said, "I wouldn't put any level of strain on it. They enjoy a very strong relationship, a relationship that the president has counted on for the last seven years."