The Veep and the Big Creep

The decision to impeach may turn on the investigation into Al Gore's wrongdoings

One of the individuals on Gore's '96 solicitation list was Chattanooga, Tennessee, real estate developer Franklin L. Haney, an old school chum, with whom the vice president liked to discuss telecommunications policy. Haney made an unsuccessful bid for governor of Tennessee in 1974.

At the time he was on the list to be courted for campaign funds, Haney was a key player in developing a Washington, D.C., office project known as the Portals, which is to become the new headquarters for the Federal Communications Commission. The decision to put the FCC in the Portals was controversial, since the office is located in an isolated corner of Washington and will cost 27 percent more to rent than the FCC's previous building. Haney got involved in 1995 and quickly refinanced the deal and won favorable lease terms with the government. A few weeks later, he contributed $230,000 to the Democratic National Committee and five other state Democratic parties. Up to that point, Haney's largest political donation had been $15,000 in 1994. Gore, while acknowledging his friendship with Haney, denied any quid pro quo, saying he had no role in the selection of developers or the FCC's decision to move.

In 1995—the year Haney got involved in the Portals—he hired another Gore associate, former congressional aide Peter Knight. By then, Knight was a hotshot Washington lobbyist and would soon be chair of the Clinton-Gore reelection campaign. Knight consulted Haney on a variety of financing and real estate matters, including the FCC move to the Portals.

Lurking in the background: Al Gore might have to step up sooner than expected
AP/ Wide World
Lurking in the background: Al Gore might have to step up sooner than expected

Knight, closely associated with Gore over the years, has been in the news on several occasions involving campaign-finance­related controversies. It's been widely reported, for instance, that Knight arranged questionable private dinners for clients with a top Energy Department official who also once worked for Gore. As the Associated Press reported, "Some of those clients got several extensions of Energy Department funding or new contracts from the department after Clinton took office, and made donations to the Democratic Party around the time of key decisions." Knight and his clients have all denied any wrongdoing.

Another person Gore solicited from his White House office was Nathan Landow, a wealthy Maryland developer. Landow has been in the news recently because of his friendship with Kathleen Willey, the White House aide who complained President Clinton groped her in a hallway. Landow is reportedly under investigation by Special Prosecutor Starr for possibly obstructing justice by advising Willey not to tell Paula Jones's lawyers the president had fondled her. Landow denies this.

Landow's political troubles date back 20 years, but more recently he's been accused of muscling the Cheyenne-Arapahoe Indians, who have been pressing claims to their ancient land. Tribal leaders said that during the run-up to the '96 election, Landow told them if they wanted any action they should hire Knight and give Landow's company 10 percent of the royalties of all future oil, gas, and mineral projects on the land. Again, Landow denied any such wrongdoing.

Landow has also been accused of arranging a sweetheart real estate deal for Webster Hubbell, Clinton's former top Justice Department aide who went to jail. Landow denied the report and threatened to sue.

Despite these troubles, Landow has been a longtime and important funder of Al Gore. When Gore called in December 1995, asking for a contribution, White House records show that Landow's response was recorded in a scribbled note by Gore: "You'll have it in hand in one hour."

With the vice president's problems—and investigation—lurking in the background, Clinton is now engaged in the political fight of his life. But the president may yet be able to carve a pathway out of this mess. Washington insiders have been speculating lately on the possible "Agnewing" of Gore (during the end of the Nixon regime, Vice President Spiro Agnew was forced from office for wrongdoing). The envisioned scenario has the vice president resigning under pressure for his own illegal activity—the sort of political misdeeds that make Clinton's failings look like what they really are: mere lying about sex. Having been offered a sacrificial lamb, the nation enters a period of healing and renewal, and Clinton rebounds in the new climate of forgiveness (especially if, as some suggest, he appoints Colin Powell vice president).

Then, however, there is the Nixon scenario. In that one, the VP resigns first and then, several months later, so does the president.

Research assistance: Jennifer Del Medico, Center for Public Integrity, Center for Responsive Politics

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