Bush seizes on donation call to assail Gore's ethics


NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.--George W. Bush criticized rival Al Gore yesterday over what he called misuse of the White House to secure campaign contributions in 1995. The Texas governor said voters should elect a new administration to "restore honor and dignity" to the Oval Office.

The Justice Department says Gore was asked to make a fundraising phone call in 1995 to a Texas trial lawyer involved in tobacco litigation. Allegedly, Gore's call cleared the way for the lawyer to give $790,000 to the Democratic Party after President Clinton vetoed limits on liability lawsuits.

A Gore aide said the vice president never made the phone call. But Bush, addressing a group of National Guard members, seized on the issue.

"Just today, there are new revelations about the potential misuse of the White House for fund-raising purposes - new evidence that my opponent may have crossed a serious line: solicitation of campaign contributions linked to a presidential veto," Bush said.

"The appearance is really disturbing. Americans are tired of investigations and scandals. The best way to get rid of them is to elect a new president who will restore honor and dignity to The White House."

Bush also criticized the Clinton administration for running down the military, telling the guardsmen, "For the last eight years, we have struggled to hold our military together. We have not prepared it for the future."

He promised to invest more money in soldiers and technology.

The Texas governor also plans to visit schools, take in a county fair and hobnob with donors during a 2 1/2 -day visit to California -his 15th in a year and the third since the GOP national convention last month.

He faces an uphill battle to beat Gore, with most state polls showing Bush with a double-digit deficit against Gore. Bush has pledged not to give up on California like his father, President George Bush, did eight years ago.

But he tacitly acknowledged his underdog status.

"I'm confident that we can carry California. I know that goes against conventional wisdom," he said at a fund-raiser in Irvine.

Meanwhile, the Bush campaign said yesterday that a videotape mysteriously mailed to a Gore confident appeared to be an authentic copy of the Texas governor's debate rehearsal.

The FBI is investigating how the tape and other material reached the Washington office of former Rep. Thomas J. Downey, who had been helping Gore prepare for debates. The Gore campaign immediately turned the package over to the FBI after getting it Wednesday.

"It appears that whoever obtained that tape did so in some sort of unethical way," Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes told reporters. "The only people who would have had authorized access to that tape were the most senior members of our campaign."

Hughes refused to speculate on whether the tape was stolen or how it was obtained. Bush officials said there was no evidence of a break-in, although the FBI will investigate the possibility.

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