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web posted October 16, 2000

Independent Counsel calls former White House attorney's testimony 'inaccurate'

A former White House attorney gave "inaccurate testimony" and presidential lawyers made it difficult for investigators to find subpoenaed documents, Independent Counsel Robert Ray's office stated in a complaint made public on October 11.

Ray's office intervened in an unrelated civil case involving missing White House e-mails to draw the judge's attention to the practices of President Clinton's lawyers during the 1998 investigation that led to his impeachment.

Though not a party to the lawsuit, "this office has an obligation to assure that inaccurate testimony is corrected," Deputy Independent Counsel Jay Apperson wrote in the Oct. 5 letter.

In the letter, Apperson challenged the veracity of former White House lawyer Michelle Peterson's testimony in the lawsuit, and urged U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth to take "appropriate action."

Peterson testified that White House lawyers always produced subpoenaed documents to investigators "as soon as anything was found." And whenever requested documents turned up belatedly, White House lawyers would "explain why they hadn't been found before," he testified.

But Apperson wrote that Peterson knew this wasn't the practice of White House lawyers. He said she was "personally involved in the failure to disclose to this office the belated discovery of an important document" during the Monica Lewinsky probe.

That document revealed that White House officials were concerned that Lewinsky had been engaged in "extracurricular activities" inside the White House before they transferred her to a job at the Pentagon. The memo became an important piece of evidence in the report prosecutors sent Congress that initiated impeachment proceedings against Clinton.

Apperson told the judge that Peterson "made no effort to disclose" the belated discovery of the document, "delayed production of the document for over a week following its discovery" and then placed it in a package of 970 pages of documents sent to prosecutors handling another case.

Apperson suggested to the judge that it was routine for the White House to "covertly transmit" belatedly discovered documents without calling attention to them.

He sent the judge a 1998 letter in which then-Special Counsel to the President Lanny Breuer acknowledged to the Office of the Independent Counsel that White House lawyers routinely sent newly discovered documents to prosecutors without clearly stating their relevance.

The letter also acknowledged that White House lawyers routinely sent belatedly discovered material with documents required by a different subpoena, without indicating that the material had been ordered by a prior subpoena.

"Although we provide you with a production log, we do not invariably and explicitly identify a recently discovered document to you in our cover letter," Breuer wrote.

Attorney Larry Klayman, whose conservative legal group Judicial Watch brought the e-mail lawsuit, said Apperson's letter shows "a pattern and practice of obstruction of justice" by the White House.

He has alleged that the administration is dragging its heels in restoring thousands of lost e-mails.

Klayman, who has put several administration officials — including Peterson — on the stand since last summer, said Apperson's letter "just explodes any defense that they have that the e-mail was a matter of good faith."

A programming error in 1998 prevented thousands of incoming messages — including some from Vice President Al Gore's office — from being archived. As a result, they were not reviewed by White House lawyers to determine whether they should have been turned over to investigators probing cases that included the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Whitewater and campaign fund raising.

Ray is investigating whether the White House covered up the e-mail problem in 1998 at the height of the Lewinsky scandal. Presidential aides have denied any cover-up.

Civil debate between Bush, Gore turns tough on domestic policy

A civil debate on international affairs between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore turned tougher October 11 when it moved to the domestic front, as the two sparred on gun policy, health care, the environment and hate crimes legislation. [Read transcript here]

George W. Bush and Al Gore shake handsThe debate, a less formal, sit-behind-a-table format also used during the vice presidential debate, had similar results as that session. In a less strident, more candid debate than the first meeting between Bush and Gore, both candidates talked about international "hot spots" and how they would address them as president.

"We can't be all things to all people in the world, Jim, and I think that's where the vice president and I are going to have some differences," Bush told moderator Jim Lehrer. Bush talked at length about the use of the military, saying the Clinton-Gore administration had engaged in "nation-building" military excursions and had overextended the military.

"I think there is a difference here," Gore said. He said the United States, dating back to World War II, had used troops to strengthen Europe and other spots around the globe and had helped build international stability.

But on many international policy issues, the two men were near agreement -- particularly in the Middle East. Although Bush raised questions about the administration's policy with Iraq, he did compliment it on its dealings with Israel and the Palestinians.

"The current administration has worked hard to keep the parties at the table. I'll do the same thing, but it won't be on my timetable," said Bush. Instead, the Middle East parties would have to determine the timetable, he said.

Lehrer opened the debate by asking Bush and Gore about whether they had thought about the responsibility they would assume if elected president. "I have thought long and hard about the honor of being the president of the United States," said Bush. He said he also understands "that an administration is not one person, but an administration is dedicated citizens called by the president to serve the country."

"Our power ought to be wielded in ways that ought to form a more perfect union," said Gore. He said that meant "standing up" for human rights, correcting inequities in civil rights, "and we have to keep our military strong."

"Our real power comes from our values," Gore said.

The debate became more confrontational as the candidates turned to domestic affairs. In one of the debate's odder moments, Bush and Gore discussed hate crimes legislation and the death in Texas of James Byrd, an African-American who was dragged to death behind a pickup truck. Three white men were convicted of murder in Byrd's death.

Bush turned back Gore's attempt to suggest that Texas needed stronger hate crimes legislation, saying Texas already had such legslation and noting, "The three men who murdered James Byrd, guess what's going to happen to them? They're going to be put to death. A jury found them guilty and it's going to be hard to punish them any worse after they get put to death."

The talk got tougher when gun control was raised. "The problem I see is that there are too many guns getting into the hands of children and criminals and people who for whatever reason, some kind of history of stalking or domestic abuse, really should not be able to get guns. I think these assault weapons are a problem," said Gore, who repeatedly has called for more restrictions purchasing weapons at gun shows.

Bush said gun problems started with a lack of enforcement of current law. "Well, it starts with enforcing law," said Bush. "We need to say loud and clear to somebody, 'If you're going to carry a gun illegally, we're going to arrest you. If you're going to sell a gun illegally, you're going to be arrested. And if you commit a crime with a gun, there needs to be absolute certainty in the law.'"

The 90-minute encounter took place at Wait Chapel on the campus of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Congressional report says anthrax vaccine large part of Air Force exodus

A newly released congressional report -- commissioned by a vocal critic of the Pentagon's anthrax vaccination program -- concludes that safety concerns about the shots played a role in the decision by as much as 25 percent of pilots and air crews in the Air Force Guard and Reserve who transferred or left the military.

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, surveyed 829 Air Force Guard and Reserve personnel. Of the 207 respondents who said they were either leaving or transferring to another unit, 52 (25 percent) said the military's required anthrax vaccination was the "most important factor" in their decision.

Sixteen percent (33) cited "other employment opportunities," and another 16 percent said "family reasons."

The chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Indiana, commissioned the report and released it October 11 to coincide with a House hearing on the anthrax vaccination issue.

During his opening statement, Burton accused the Pentagon and Defense Secretary William Cohen of understating the effect the mandatory vaccination program is having on retention of key military personnel.

Dan Burton"Because of Secretary Cohen's decision to mandate the anthrax vaccine we have lost a substantial number of pilots and air crew members," Burton said at the hearing. "These pilots and air crew members are essential to our military readiness. They are the backbone of every military operation.

"Without our Air National Guard and Reserve, the United States military would be unable to respond to any national security threat or emergency," Burton said.

Committee member Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut, made his point more bluntly. "I sincerely believe the military is being blatantly untruthful to us. And I believe this program is destroying our readiness. I believe that it must stop," Shays said.

But the Pentagon insists it is not suffering an exodus of personnel because of anthrax vaccination fears.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said a day earlier, in advance of the release of the GAO report, "I don't think it's been a major factor. I'm sure you can find some individuals who have left the Guard or Reserve rather than proceed with their anthrax vaccination, but I don't think, in numbers, I don't think we've considered (it) as a significant impact in that regard, no."

There are some 176,000 troops in the Guard and Reserve, including about 13,000 who are pilots or other air crew members.

Maj. Jerry Herbel, a spokesman for the Air Force Reserve Command, also disputed the idea that the anthrax concerns have left the Air Force understaffed. "We have not experienced unusually high air crew turnover in the past three years," Herbel said.

But at the hearing, retired Lt. Col. Tom Heemstra, a former squadron commander in the Indiana Air National Guard who has become an anti-anthrax activist, testified that the unit was devastated by the resignations of 12 pilots.

Schlessinger offers apology

Laura Schlessinger used the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday -- the Day of Atonement -- to apologize to gays and lesbians for "poorly chosen" words she said have been perceived as hate speech.

"On the Day of Atonement, Jews are commanded to seek forgiveness from people we have hurt," the radio and TV talk show host, who is Jewish, said in a newspaper ad. "I deeply regret the hurt this situation has caused the gay and lesbian community."

The ad, in the form of a letter signed by Schlessinger, was included in a special "Gay Hollywood" edition of the trade paper Daily Variety. The October 11 issue examined progress by gays and lesbians in the entertainment industry.

Yom Kippur, during which Jews fast and seek forgiveness for sins, was October 9.

Schlessinger has been criticized by gay rights activists for referring to homosexuality as a "biological error" and "deviant." In March, she said she was sorry her radio comments have hurt people.

Her words of contrition then and now failed to placate her critics.

"Laura Schlessinger once again blames others for the impact of her rhetoric, refusing to take responsibility for her precisely chosen, scientifically inaccurate descriptions of gay and lesbian lives," said Joan M. Garry, executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

"The anger Schlessinger's words have caused is too great and too profound to simply go away after a qualified admission of some guilt," Garry said in a statement.

Incensed by her characterization of homosexuality, gay rights activists tried to stop television stations from broadcasting her new "Dr. Laura" TV talk show, which debuted in September. In the controversy's wake, several top advertisers dropped sponsorship of the show.

Although Schlessinger's radio program is popular, her TV show has earned lackluster ratings so far. Last month, production was briefly halted in order to retool the show.

The tart-tongued Schlessinger, who holds a doctorate in physiology and offers her listeners advice and lectures on morality, headlined her Daily Variety ad, "A heartfelt message from Dr. Laura Schlessinger."

"While I express my opinions from the perspective of an Orthodox Jew and a staunch defender of the traditional family, in talking about gays and lesbians some of my words were poorly chosen," the ad says.

"Many people perceive them as hate speech. This fact has been personally and professionally devastating to me as well as to many others," she said.

Oldman says studio Democrats ruined "Contender"

Cantankerous actor Gary Oldman was openly badmouthing his new movie, The Contender, just one day before its release date -- which happened to fall on Friday the 13th, with a full moon in the sky.

Gary OldmanOldman, a Republican, is fuming about editing cuts made to The Contender, which he alleges were made due to the studio's Democratic leanings. In the new issue of Premiere magazine, Oldman and his manager, Douglas Urbanski, accuse DreamWorks honchos Steven Spielberg, David Geffen, and Jeffrey Katzenberg — all Democrats — of turning the political drama upside down to make it mesh with their pro-Al Gore agendas.

"If your names are Spielberg, Katzenberg, and Geffen," Urbanski declares, "you can't have a film with a Republican character … who is at all sympathetic … being released on Oct. 13 [less than a month before the presidential election]."

The Contender focuses on a female presidential candidate (Joan Allen) who comes under fire when her opponent, a Republican congressman (Oldman), reveals a scandalous skeleton in her closet.

Oldman says when DreamWorks bought the film rights, the company forced director-writer Rod Lurie to turn The Contender into an unbalanced, Democrat-friendly tale. Urbanski cuts to the chase by alleging that the film is "a Goebbels-like piece of propaganda."

DreamWorks spokesman Walter Parkes denies the charges. "There's no indication to me whatsoever that Rod [Lurie] ever felt pressured," he said. "One only has to look at the coverage of the [Democratic] convention to see that the owners of this company have sympathies with the Democratic Party. Did those sympathies enter into the editorial process … or the decision to buy the movie? Unequivocally, no."

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