An allegation in a soon-to-be-published book surfaced on the campaign trail yesterday as Vice President Gore denied that his youthful use of marijuana was more extensive than he has acknowledged.
The allegation was made by John Warnecke, who worked with Gore on the Tennessean newspaper in the 1970s and gave his account to Newsweek reporter Bill Turque for a biography of Gore.
Questioned about the charge by local reporters in Iowa, Gore said the story was "old news" and denied Warnecke's account that for years they smoked pot daily. He said he used marijuana "when I came back from Vietnam, yes, but not to that extent." Gore said in 1987 that his use of marijuana, which began in college, had been "infrequent and rare."
Pressed further yesterday, Gore said: "When I was young, I did things young people do; when I grew up I put away childish things." He did not address his relationship with Warnecke.
The incident is the latest example of how media coverage of an accusation--in this case by a recovering alcoholic who is being treated for depression--can intrude on presidential politics. The Warnecke charge created a ripple in media circles after Newsweek delayed a planned excerpt of Turque's "Inventing Al Gore: A Biography" in part because of concern about Warnecke's credibility. Salon.com published an interview Saturday with Warnecke, whose allegations were discussed on "Fox News Sunday" and in yesterday's New York Post.
In an interview from his California home yesterday, Warnecke freely acknowledged that he is taking prescription drugs for severe depression, that his family has a history of mental illness and that he has voluntarily been hospitalized for depression a number of times. Now living on disability, Warnecke said he considers himself an addict and had also used cocaine but has had no alcohol or drugs for 21 years.
But none of that, said Warnecke, 53, changes the fact that he knew Gore "very, very well" as a friend and next-door neighbor in Nashville and later raised money for his campaigns. He says Gore used marijuana until the week he announced his candidacy for the House in 1976, or about four years later than the vice president has maintained.
Warnecke said he told a different story in 1987, when Gore was gearing up to run for president, because Gore repeatedly pressured him to "stonewall" and "not to tell the truth" about their drug use. He said he felt "intimidated" by Gore.
"I made up a story that he smoked very little a couple of times and he didn't like it," Warnecke said. "He smoked a lot and he liked it." Warnecke said he felt "guilty" about lying and decided to talk to Turque because he "couldn't stand the pressure any more."
Connolly reported from Davenport, Iowa.