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web posted July 10, 2000

Gumbel remark caught by camera

An unexpected camera shift - and some amateur lipreading - caught Bryant Gumbel in what appeared to be a profane comment about a guest on CBS's The Early Show.

Gumbel had finished a tense interview with Robert Knight, a spokesman for the Family Research Council who supported the Supreme Court decision allowing the Boy Scouts of America to exclude gays as leaders.

After he ended the interview, the camera inexplicably switched to Gumbel getting up from his chair. Gumbel was heard to say "What a ...."

Knight believes Gumbel completed the sentence with a profanity and the word "idiot." The words can't be heard, but a videotape appears to support their contention. It led the American Family Association to issue a statement calling for Gumbel's ouster. Knight said he didn't think that was necessary, but he'd appreciate an apology.

"He was caught off balance," Knight said. "He didn't know he was on."

Gumbel left after the show for a vacation, spokesman Sandra Genelius said.

"He was making a casual remark, but it is unclear what the comment was and it bears no relevance to the content of The Early Show, said a statement from CBS.

Libertarians nominate Browne for second run at presidency

More than a thousand Libertarians gathered at the party's national convention on July 2 nominated Harry Browne, their 1996 candidate for president, to run again in 2000.

The 67-year-old investment banker from Nashville, Tenn., acknowledged he has little chance of winning the presidency. He said he hoped his campaign would reinvigorate what was formerly the nation's top third party.

"We're the only political party that's offering to set you free," Browne said. "It's the most powerful political message in the world."

Officials with the Libertarian Party, which advocates individual liberties over expansive and expensive government programs, claims some 30,000 dues-paying members.

It also identifies itself as the biggest third party movement in the United States.

However, the party has lacked the star power of the Reform Party and the Green Party in recent years.

Browne finished fifth in 1996, behind Reform Party candidate Ross Perot and Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, garnering less than 1 percent of the national vote.

He has proposed a 12-step program that would eliminate income taxes, Social Security, the war on drugs and federal welfare.

Competing against Browne were: Don Gorman of Deerfield, N.H., a former four-term New Hampshire state legislator; Barry Hess, a salesman from Phoenix, Ariz.; David Hollist, a charter bus driver from Alta Loma, Calif.; and Jacob Hornberger, president of the Future of Freedom Foundation, a libertarian think tank in Fairfax, Va.

Helms says no decision yet on bid for sixth term in 2002

Sen. Jesse Helms was characteristically blunt about everything but his own plans in an interview published July 4, saying he has not decided whether he would run for a sixth term two years from now.

"I don't think anybody better get cranked up raising money for the Senate unless they want to run against me," Helms, who has battled health problems, quipped in an interview in the Raleigh News & Observer.

But he quickly added: "That's not to say I'm going to run."

At 78, Helms has lost most of the feeling in his feet because of a condition that disrupts the functioning of nerves. He relies on a motorized scooter to get around Capitol Hill.

In the interview, conducted the week before, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, first elected to the Senate in 1972, also made his opinions clear on several foreign policy issues, expressing disdain for new Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military campaign against breakaway Chechnya.

"He's going to corner those people, he's going to push them back, he's going to murder them and then go have a glass of vodka," Helms said.

The famously cantankerous conservative icon also warned that Senate GOP leaders shouldn't count on his cooperation on a bill granting China permanent normal trading status.

"Dream on," Helms said when asked about Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's strategy to pass the bill without amendments. "I'm going to give them the pleasure of voting on a number of amendments. In the group, there may be at least one they like."

He also slammed the proposed easing of trade sanctions against Cuba -- pushed largely by farm state representatives -- as misguided.

"They don't consider the question of where (Fidel) Castro is going to get the money to pay for all of it."

Helms vowed to continue blocking U.S. involvement in the proposed International Criminal Court, a permanent body to try war criminals.

"I'm not going to put our servicemen in the posture of being hauled into court by some people who don't care a thing in the world about them," Helms said. "I don't want the United States participating in it, and as long as I'm here, the United States will not participate in it."

Nevada protesters take up shovels against federal lands policy

Armed with shovels, hundreds of digging demonstrators gathered on July 3 from across the United States to join a protest near Jarbidge, Nevada, aimed at un-blocking a forest road and making a statement against federal land use policies.

In an act illustrating widespread frustration over federal control of public lands, the so-called Jarbidge Shovel Brigade, comprised of men, women and children, defied the U.S. Forest Service by beginning to clear a remote road that has been blocked by the federal government.

The work could result in jail time or fines for the protesters. They have been threatened with prosecution if they violate clean water laws or disturb the habitat of the threatened bull trout, which lives in the nearby Jarbidge River.

Before the protest, a federal judge refused to grant the Forest Service a temporary restraining order to stop the demonstration, saying the federal government had failed to prove protesters would endanger the trout or dirty the river.

"I think this is a great day for local government, and it is a step in the right direction of us in the West who are tired of the government telling us what is best for us," said Demar Dahl, president of the Shovel Brigade.

South Canyon Road has become the "line in the sand" against federal land policies since it washed out during a flood in 1995, triggering a festering feud between federal officials and Elko County.

Federal authorities have blocked efforts to reopen the road, fearing any work would damage the stream bed and jeopardize the existence of the bull trout population, which might be as small 700 in Nevada.

About 500 protesters arrived from several Western states, and some came from as far away as Ohio and Rhode Island, but predictions of crowds as large as 5,000 seemed optimistic.

The protesters were peaceful, friendly and firm. "Their fight is my fight back there," said Scott Traudt, 34, a commercial fisherman from Warwick, Rhode Island, who said loggers, ranchers and others who make their living from the land are frustrated by increased government regulation.

"We've had enough," he said. "We're all getting unified."

There have been earlier signs of national interest in the Jarbidge cause. In January, a convoy of vehicles carrying more than 10,000 shovels from Montana and Idaho arrived in Elko County to support the fight and join a local parade, according to the brigade's Web site.

The site accuses the Clinton administration of "arbitrarily naming millions of acres (mostly in Western states as) "heritage sites, wilderness areas, national monuments, and roadless areas by using executive order."

Lazio: Clintons have "disgraced" country

In his harshest attack to date, Republican candidate Rick Lazio says in a fund-raising letter that Senate rival Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband "have embarrassed our country and disgraced their powerful posts."

"She covets power and control and thinks she should be dictating how other people run their lives," the Long Island congressman said in the letter, which came to light on July 5. "No other Senate hopeful enjoys a liberal national press that hangs on her every word and treats her never-ending soap opera of scandals as `irrelevant' and `yesterday's news."'

The first lady has issued her own direct-mail appeal, declaring that Lazio's candidacy is the product of "Republican Party kingmakers" and outlining their differences on the issues.

"I support licensing and registration of handguns. He doesn't," she wrote. "He has voted against the right to choose for low-income women, even in cases of rape and incest. I would never vote that way."

Last month, Clinton and her supporters launched six TV commercials attacking Lazio's congressional record and his stand on the issues.

Audit says IRS owes taxpayers $25 million in excess payments

Thousands of taxpayers overpaid $25 million in income taxes that should have been credited to their accounts or refunded by the Internal Revenue Service, according to an independent audit that cites computer problems as the main culprit.

Thousands more individuals, families and businesses forfeited their rights to refunds or credits, or were at risk of doing so, that totaled $335 million. These taxpayers failed to file late tax returns in time for legal deadlines to qualify for the money.

The IRS says it has returned or credited the money owed and is fixing the problem. Still, some taxpayers mistakenly got IRS notices demanding taxes already paid or were forced to deal with IRS liens.

The audit by the independent Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, David C. Williams, examined 426,000 tax payments, totaling $360 million, from 240,000 taxpayers that had been transferred as of March 1999 to the IRS Excess Collections Account. Payments are deposited into this account when the IRS is unable to match them with a tax return, usually because it is late.

Of the $360 million, the audit found that:

  • About $25 million, or 29,820 payments, immediately should have been refunded or credited to taxpayers who filed returns late but within the legal requirement of generally three years after the initial due date -- usually April 15 of a given year. The audit did not break down how many taxpayers that involved.
  • Taxpayers forfeited $162 million, or 191,700 payments, because they did not get a return to the IRS within the three-year window necessary to claim a refund or to credit the payment toward another tax year.
  • No tax return had been filed for $173 million, or 204,480 payments. But these taxpayers still could get their credit or refund if they took action quickly.

Tax law requires a taxpayer to file a claim for a credit or refund of an overpayment within three years after a return is filed or two years after the tax was paid, whichever is later. If no tax is due, the claim must be made within two years of the payment.

The chief culprit is the main IRS computer, which is not linked directly to computers in the agency's 10 service centers, where records of payment transfers to the excess account are kept.

When a late return is filed, the computer containing a taxpayer's main account has no record of the previous payments and the IRS sends out a notice demanding the money. "This control weakness made it appear that these taxpayers had underpaid their tax liabilities," the auditors found.

An IRS study from 1995 that was cited by auditors said it was "unproductive" to spend time tracking down people who failed to file tax returns if they did not owe taxes and that agents sometimes transferred payments to the excess accounts to reduce the number of unresolved cases.

As a result, the auditors found that "many taxpayers received inaccurate or erroneous balance due notices, sometimes taxpayers made additional payments in excess of their tax liabilities and, in a few instances, taxpayers were subjected to federal tax liens."

IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti responded in a letter that computers are being modified to prevent transfers into the excess payment account until the three-year refund limit has expired.

Rossotti also said the IRS will send "periodic letters to taxpayers with credits to remind them to file a return to receive a credit or refund."

He questioned the $25 million in credits and refunds estimated by the audit, saying an examination of two of the 10 service centers uncovered 1,398 payments due totaling about $1.7 million. If that rate held for the other centers, Rossotti said, the total credited back to taxpayers would amount to about $8.3 million.

The auditors said the discrepancy could be attributed to major differences between service centers in crediting taxpayer overpayments and responses by many taxpayers to inaccurate balance notices they received last year.

Canadian tobacco companies file lawsuit against federal labelling law

Three tobacco companies, led by Imperial Tobacco, filed a lawsuit July 6 that aims to strike down new federal legislation requiring larger health warnings on cigarette packages.

The lawsuit, filed in Quebec Superior Court, asks for an immediate halt to the law's requirement that the warnings be big enough to cover half of a cigarette package. Imperial was joined in the suit by JTI-Macdonald Corp. and Rothmans, Benson and Hedges Inc.

Imperial, Canada's largest manufacturer of tobacco, contends the labelling law is unconstitutional because it infringes on the corporation's freedom of expression.

"These packages belong to us," said Michel Descoteaux, an Imperial Tobacco spokesman.

"We believe that for the government to come and seize 50 per cent of the package for their own purposes is an expropriation of our trademarks and of our packages."

He said the firm, whose brands include Du Maurier and Players, doesn't object to warning labels but requiring half the package to contain health messages is excessive.

The suit says the government has not produced any credible evidence that large warning notices would lead to a reduction in the number of Canadians who smoke.

Rothmans, Benson and Hedges is Canada's second-largest cigarette company and is owned 60 per cent by Canada's Rothman Inc. with the remainder held by Philip Morris Cos. Inc., the biggest cigarette manufacturer in the United States.

JTI-Macdonald holds the No. 3 spot in Canada and is owned by Japan Tobacco Inc.

Garfield Mahood, executive director of the Non-Smokers Rights' Association, argued the lawsuit suggests the industry is hypocritical about tobacco's health dangers.

"We're obviously very critical of the industry for attempting to deny to customers the real risk of its products," he said in an interview from Ottawa.

Mahood said it was only days ago that tobacco firms told a Senate committee "they'd made mistakes and said they wanted to work with the government to keep kids away from their products."

But Imperial Tobacco said the labelling requirements make a mockery of a 1995 Supreme Court of Canada decision which struck down sections of the Tobacco Products Control Act as illegal.

That decision under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came only after five years of court proceedings.

The firm said it's "unfair to again violate its rights until the constitutional fate of this new similar legislation is decided."

The Imperial Tobacco lawsuit comes less than a week after U.S. District Court Judge Thomas McAvoy threw out Canada's court action against U.S.-based RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co., five related companies and the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers' Council.

The Canadian government's $1 billion US suit claimed the tobacco firms had been involved in racketeering and fraud but McAvoy dismissed the case before it could even go to trial.

The judge agreed with the defendants who cited the rule that U.S. courts cannot enforce tax laws of foreign nations.

Ottawa says it was defrauded of more than $1 billion US between 1991 and 1994 in foregone taxes, duties and other revenue.

Starr spokesman charged for leaks

Kenneth Starr's former spokesman faces trial this week in a battle over news leaks during the Monica Lewinsky investigation that until now was fought mostly in secret.

The criminal contempt trial of Charles Bakaly, who is being prosecuted by the government, is to begin July 13, according to documents unsealed at the U.S. District Court.

Court documents show that Bakaly requested that the trial be held in public and that the case be unsealed. That request was granted the week before by U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, who as the chief judge of the federal court in Washington oversees matters involving grand jury secrecy.

Bakaly faces trial over statements he made concerning investigations into alleged leaks from the special prosecutor's office during President Clinton's impeachment ordeal, according to the documents.

The documents made public so far don't specify the exact reason why Bakaly was charged with contempt. But officials have said, and court documents show, that Bakaly was accused by his own office of having a role in a January 1999 news leak during Clinton's impeachment trial. He denied being the source of the leak.

Johnson, who presided over most of the legal cases during the Lewinsky impeachment drama, solicited the views of Clinton's lawyers and Starr's successor, Robert Ray, as to whether sealed documents in the case should be made public at Bakaly's trial.

The trial is the latest twist in a case spurred by Clinton's lawyers.

During the height of the impeachment investigation, the president's attorneys launched a legal assault accusing Starr and his staff of illegally leaking to the news media information covered by federal grand jury secrecy rules about the Lewinsky case.

Starr's office denied any illegal leaks, but his staff was forced to undergo an intense investigation directed by the court.

In the midst of that investigation, Bakaly abruptly resigned in March 1999 as Starr's spokesman after his former boss referred him to the Justice Department in connection with a press leak two months earlier.

The New York Times, citing unidentified sources, reported on Jan. 31, 1999, that Starr had concluded the president could legally be indicted while still in office.

Bakaly went on national television the day after the article appeared and said the "information did not come from our office. ... We did not leak this information. ... We do not leak grand jury information."

Starr made the referral to the Justice Department after his office conducted its own inquiry and concluded Bakaly may have been involved in the leak, officials said.

Court documents last fall showed Starr's office took administrative action against Bakaly and informed the court it was withdrawing its earlier denial that the prosecutor's office was the source of the January 1999 leak. Instead, it argued the information in the story was not covered by grand jury rules.

Johnson ultimately concluded there was evidence that Starr's office may have been behind as many as two dozen improper leaks. Starr appealed, and won a key ruling from an appeals court.

Among other things, the appeals court sided with Starr in concluding the information in the Times article was not covered by grand jury secrecy and thus was not an improper leak.

Bakaly, however, was forced to face the criminal contempt charge.

Bakaly, a bespectacled lawyer, defended Starr against an onslaught of criticism as spokesman for the independent counsel's office during the Lewinsky drama.

He was the official who announced from the steps of the Capitol that Starr had sent a referral to Congress alleging that Clinton may have committed impeachable offenses.

Before joining Starr's office, Bakaly acted as spokesman for Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz's investigation of former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy.

He is the second major figure in the impeachment drama to face contempt charges.

Clinton was accused of civil contempt by a federal judge for false statements in the Paula Jones case and ordered to pay a fine. The Arkansas Supreme Court's lawyers committee is trying to strip the president of his law license.

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