Report: Justice Dept. Probes New Angle on Gore Fund Raising

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - Attorney General Janet Reno today refused to say whether the Justice Department is investigating another fund-raising matter involving Al Gore - this time, questions about Gore's efforts to raise money from Texas trial lawyers in 1995.

"As you know, I don't comment on whether we've opened or haven't opened an investigation," she said Thursday at her weekly briefing. "But I can suggest that as we approach the election I think there will be more issues like this raised, and I think we should be very careful."

"I'm going to approach it...based on the evidence and the law," she said.

Reno has three times refused to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate questionable fund-raising practices by Vice President Al Gore.

According to various press reports, Gore attended a fund-raiser in Houston in November 1995, then tried to follow up with a call to Texas trial lawyer Walter Umphrey a few days later.

Gore apparently did not get through, so a Democratic Party official placed the call instead. That official was Don Fowler, then serving as head of the Democratic National Committee.

In a "call sheet" prepared for Fowler, an DNC staffer reminded him, "Reason for call is 'Sorry you missed the Vice President; I know (you) will give $100K when the President vetoes Tort reform but we really need it now. Please send ASAP if possible.'"

Clinton vetoed the Republican-backed tort reform bill in May 1996, and Umphrey and other Texas lawyers followed through will large contributions after that.

The New York Times reports that over the last four years - since Clinton's veto -- Umphrey and his firm have given $800,000 to the Democrats. Before that, Umphrey's firm had donated only $40,000.

In an interview with the New York Times, Fowler said he never would have used the language mentioned on the call sheet.

The veto in question involved a Republican-backed bill strongly opposed by trial lawyers - a bill that would have limited punitive damage awards handed out by state and federal courts.

Among those criticizing President Clinton's veto of tort reform was Sen. Joseph Lierberman (D-CT), now Al Gore's running mate.

In a 1996 interview with the Wall Street Journal, Lieberman called trial lawyers "a small group of people who are deeply invested in the status quo, who have worked the system very effectively and have had a disproportionate effect."