The Soft-Money Loophole

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: Since it's a rule that you always lead with the good news, Bill Clinton opened up his Friday afternoon press conference by noting that the economy was doing well and that he was doing more to help Gulf War Vets. He then spent most of the next 50 minutes responding to mounting charges the White House was improperly used to solicit campaign contributions. The President insisted he and his staff did not violate campaign finan ce laws, assured the public future Democratic fund raising efforts would abide by higher standards and made another impassioned plea for campaign finance reform. "The conference was part of a strategy to try and make clear that this latest dilemma doe s not have the White House trapped in a bunker," notes TIME's Karen Tumulty. Time and again, Clinton reminded everyone that, no matter how bad it might look, as far as he knew no laws had been broken. It's beginning to look like he just migh t be right about that. "As we are now finding out, there's a loophole in the law as big as a Mack Truck which means that soft money is not covered under the ban on raising money in federal buildings, and that, primarily, is what we're dealin g with here," says Tumulty. Even so, it certainly looks bad, and Clinton admitted as much. He said he was "livid" with the DNC for not screening donations more carefully and that he was "furious" about memos which linked contributions to f ace time with the President. He also brushed aside charges that overnight stays in the Lincoln Bedroom and coffee meetings for political supporters were, if not illegal, at least not proper by saying he "loved them" and that they provided him with human contact in an isolating job. Clinton was less certain on the subject of how Johnny Chung, described in a White House memo as a "hustler," and several Chinese businessmen of questionable character obtained access to the White House. His res ponse: He "assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that there were established procedures" for background checks on White House visitors. With the word now that Republican efforts to get Attorney General Janet Reno to appoint an independent counsel will go nowhere, the chances of Clinton riding out this storm look better than ever.