Clinton Stands Behind Gore, Williams: Won't Say He Made No Calls to Raise Funds

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President Clinton yesterday brushed aside suggestions that he, the vice president or White House aides broke laws or ethics rules in the deepening fund-raising scandal but couldn't recall if he made unseemly phone calls for campaign cash from the White House.

Promising not to be misleading or "cute," Mr. Clinton said "I'm not sure, frankly" if he made the kind of calls to raise money that Vice President Al Gore has acknowledged making - and promised never to repeat.

In a 51-minute, nationally televised news conference dominated by the Democrats' fund-raising scandal, the president first said he didn't like making donor calls, then said he pledged to but "just never got around to doing it."

Aides for a week have promised to reveal if the president made any such calls from his Oval Office, but so far have not compiled a list.

Republican Party Chairman Jim Nicholson scoffed at Mr. Clinton's answer. "In Harry Truman's White House, `The buck stops here' was proudly displayed on the president's desk. In the Clinton-Gore White House, the message is, `Stop here with the bucks.' "

As dozens of cameras clicked to catch his every expression, Mr. Clinton strongly defended the actions of Mr. Gore and Margaret A. Williams and even said the wave of problems that have dogged his presidency has not tarnished his post-1992 election declaration to manage the most ethical administration ever.

"I don't believe . . . that [the revelations] undermine the case," he declared.

His White House was rocked this week by accusations of wrongdoing by Mr. Gore and Miss Williams, the first lady's chief of staff, who accepted a $50,000 check for the DNC at the White House from a party fund-raiser whom a national security aide characterized as a "hustler."

In each case, the White House has used obscure legal loopholes to argue that there was no wrongdoing, even though their actions violated rules prepared by the White House counsel's office.

Mr. Gore, for example, declared that there was "no controlling legal authority" that would have prevented his making fund-raising calls from the White House, and aides said Miss Williams was allowed to take the check because she didn't solicit it.

In offering these defenses, Mr. Clinton declared that his White House is not hiding behind the law in its defense.

"I don't think it's good enough to say, `It is legal.' I think we should be held to a higher standard than just `it is legal,' " said Mr. Clinton. "I don't believe it's enough to say, `Everybody does it.' . . . In the end, we should set a high standard."

While on that subject, the president was asked if he was right in his previous declaration that solicitations should not take place at the White House or if Mr. Gore was right that they could.

"I think they're both right," the president replied.

Using lawyerly language to explain, Mr. …