WASHINGTON — A federal judge Friday held former Vice President Al Gore accountable for lying to the American people in a way that appears to have cost him the 2000 presidential election.
U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz in Maryland said Gore committed two violations of the federal law that regulates campaigning and buys television airtime. The charges stemmed from a campaign that aggressively contested the outcome of the election, including a lawsuit that challenged what Gore was told and requested during the key weekend period after the election.
Attorneys for Gore had sought to dismiss the charges against him.
“They’re going to be going forward to the discovery stage now and gathering all the facts,” Motz said after a three-hour hearing. “My job is not to interpret. My job is to decide.”
Motz repeatedly singled out a call by former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who Gore called on to help him defeat President George W. Bush, that he made to Wall Street bankers in the immediate aftermath of the election as a key evidence.
Motz said the wiretap was held up because Hastert said only that he was a friend and not that he wanted Gore to win. Hastert later paid former campaign strategist Mark Penn $3.5 million in hush money, though he said it was his money.
Gore testified on his own behalf, as did Hastert’s lawyers. Motz said it was “clearly” wrong for Hastert to not disclose his motive for calling the bankers.
“Those are not just coincidences,” Motz said. “If I could find Mr. Penn in front of me and I could get him to testify, I would tell him, ‘Dennis Hastert wanted Al Gore to lose.’”
Motz did not immediately rule on an Obama administration request that he dismiss the charges against Gore. But he seemed concerned about those who would have to testify.
“These are grave matters and I don’t want to gag people,” Motz said. “I want them to testify truthfully, if possible.”
Motz said he agreed with lawyers for the Gore-aligned group, Earth Now, who argued that without the indictment the indictment of Hastert would “destroy the foundation” of their efforts to raise money for research into climate change.
A defense lawyer, Eric Tirschwell, said it was too early to tell if the indictment would get to President Donald Trump.
“It’s very hard to gauge the strength of this indictment,” Tirschwell said. “I think a lot of the power of this indictment lies in the self-portrait that it depicts.”
Gore, speaking through an attorney, acknowledged that the campaign was disorganized and didn’t have enough support, but said that it was his right to speak to the public about how to make a change. He repeated his belief that Bush “opposed meaningful action to reduce global warming” and that those who believed he didn’t were being misled.
“Everything came back to Al Gore and the campaign,” Gore said. “The damage was done.”
John Gerzema, one of his attorneys, said the campaign needed to have a robust effort for Gore to win in 2000, so more than the 50 million voters was at stake.
Gore’s case was being watched closely by many Democrats who are worried that new rules for elections could allow the corruption and illegal influence that tainted the last two presidential elections, including the 2000 Florida recount.
“We need to understand exactly what Mr. Gore did, and we are anxious for the opportunity to look at all of his documents and exhibits and respond to all of Mr. Gore’s allegations,” Gerzema said.
Prosecutors have suggested that Gore helped suppress opinion polls that showed Bush, a Republican, with a substantial lead. Gore’s campaign told the judge that the ads should be suppressed because they showed Bush’s support was slipping.
“The voters said it as loud as they could,” Gerzema said. “The voters said they would turn.”
U.S. Attorney for Maryland Robert K. Hur recommended that Gore be convicted.
“Gore started and set the tone to subvert the voting process,” he said.