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Jewish World Review March 31, 2000 /24 Adar II, 5760

Roger Simon

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You've got hell: Deflating AlGore's confidence -- AL GORE SAYS he hopes the Republicans "spend a lot of time and a lot of energy" investigating whether he is dishonest or not.

And he said this, according to The Associated Press, "with a confident grin."

Maybe he has something to smile about. But maybe not.

When George Bush began his attacks on Gore's honesty and integrity a few weeks ago, there were a lot of grins around Gore headquarters in Nashville.

"If the Bush staff has demonstrated anything," said one Gore staffer, "it's that they are very conventional thinkers."

The Republicans have tried to use the character issue in election after election and to no avail. The issue simply did not seem to have any traction with voters.

It sure didn't work in the last election, when Bob Dole raised the issue of illegal fund raising by Al Gore at a Buddhist temple and found that nobody cared. "Where's the outrage?" Dole asked plaintively.

But two recent events may create some outrage. The National Journal, a Washington policy magazine, turned a spotlight on a criminal probe of Gore campaign chairman Tony Coelho for what the State Department's Office of Inspector General calls numerous financial irregularities when Coelho was head of the U.S. exhibition at the World's Fair in Portugal in 1998.

Coelho, who in his financial disclosure form with the State Department listed 85 sources of income and a net worth of more than $10 million, is being investigated to decide whether he used the lucrative perks available to him to encourage people to invest in his private business dealings.

Coelho's lawyer, Stanley Brand, says there has been no wrongdoing and questions the timing of the story. "This is old news," he said. "This became news only after (Gore) won the nomination."

The probe may come to nothing, but Gore, who would much rather be talking about education and saving Social Security, found himself fending off questions about Coelho recently.

"Tony Coelho is doing a terrific job day after day," Gore said during a campaign appearance in Macomb, Mich. "He will continue to do a terrific job."

But Coelho is not Gore's only headache.

According to court papers filed last week, the Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into whether the White House prevented thousands of e-mails from being searched in response to subpoenas.

And, more worrisome, prosecutors "intend to investigate whether persons were in fact threatened with retaliation" if they revealed the existence of the missing e-mail to a Justice Department finance task force.

Prosecutors will begin interviewing those people next week and hope to finish within 60 to 90 days.

Nobody knows what is contained in the e-mails. They could relate to Gore's fund raising, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, innocent public policy, all of the above or none of the above.

"We have a subpoena out," a law-enforcement official said last week. "If they have documents that are responsive, we expect to get them."

But when will the White House be able to reconstruct the e-mails? Long after Election Day.

The White House currently estimates that it will take one to two years to reconstruct the messages at a cost of $1.8 to $3 million dollars -- which will not discourage the Bush campaign from vigorously pursuing the matter on the campaign trail from now until November.

"So many scandals," Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "and so little time."

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate