Dole Makes Debate a Matter of Trust Republican Tackles Ethics, Scandals from the Outset

Article excerpt

Out to revive his White House hopes with just 20 days to go to the election, Bob Dole accused President Bill Clinton in their final debate Wednesday of violating the public's trust by presiding over an administration with "scandals on almost a daily basis."

Dole was the aggressor from the outset in a 90-minute, town hall style forum at the University of San Diego. Besides faulting Clinton's ethical record, Dole accused the president of misleading voters by saying Republicans were trying to cut Medicare.

"When I am president of the United States I will keep my word," Dole said. "My word is my bond." Dole said "many Americans have lost faith in government" because "they see scandals on an almost daily basis - they see ethical problems in the White House today." Dole specifically mentioned the Clinton White House's collection of more than 900 sensitive FBI background files - many of them on prominent Republicans. "You have to keep that public trust" as president, Dole said. "I think now that trust is being violated." Clinton did not respond directly to Dole's criticisms on ethical problems, although he protested Dole's claim he was trying to cut too deeply into the defense budget. Dole telegraphed his debate game plan throughout the week, escalating with each passing day his criticism of an administration he said had not kept its commitment to be the most ethical in history. In a morning visit to the debate site, Dole scolded Clinton for taking the ethical questions lightly. "That's the problem with this White House," he said. "They don't take any of this seriously." Clinton flew into San Diego from New Mexico, shrugging off questions about whether he was braced for attacks from Dole. "I'm going to respond to the people who are in the audience," Clinton said. "That's the way this is designed." Over the past week, Dole has faulted the Clinton administration for a litany of ethical lapses, from the firing of White House travel office workers and collection of background FBI files to independent counsel investigations of Cabinet members and the president himself. Jim Lehrer of PBS was serving as moderator, as he did for the first Dole-Clinton debate 10 days ago and last week's encounter between Vice President Al Gore and Republican Jack Kemp. …