Fowler: No Memory Of CIA Contact
Senators' questioning centers on favors done for Tamraz, temple fund-raiser
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Sep. 9) -- Former Democratic National Committee national chairman Don Fowler told a Senate panel he has no memory of contacting the CIA on behalf of a controversial Democratic donor, even when confronted with two memos from a CIA employee who said the contact occurred.
Fowler was the sole witness today in the Governmental Affairs Committee's inquiry into alleged political fund-raising abuses during the 1996 campaign.
Fowler launched this week's hearings with a strong defense of his actions during the 1996 campaign.
"It is fully appropriate for the head of a national political party to secure a meeting for a supporter with an administration official or even to advocate a worthy cause," Fowler told the panel.
"Members of Congress do this; staff members of Congress do it; it is their responsibility to do so," Fowler said.
"Our intent was to conduct a campaign honorably, in compliance with all relevant legal and ethical principles," Fowler said. "The campaign was run by good, decent, honorable, talented people and we worked very hard to follow the rules."
Nonetheless, he described the overall system as "faulty" and called on the committee to take up the McCain-Feingold campaign reform bill.
"I accept responsibility for the mistakes that we made," Fowler said. "No one is more disappointed with our shortcomings than I. Those mistakes, however, were mistakes of process, not intent."
Much of the questioning focused on help that Fowler had offered controversial Democratic donor Roger Tamraz.
Tamraz, who is wanted in Lebanon on embezzlement charges, had sought administration support for an oil pipeline he hoped to build in the Caspian Sea region.
Fowler said he had searched his memory for months and been unable to remember any contact with the CIA on behalf of Tamraz.
However, Fowler said, "Memory is fallible," and offered to review any proof offered up by others to refresh his memory.
He quickly got the chance. Sen. Fred Thompson, the committee's chairman, brought to Fowler's attention several CIA memos that recounted a conversation between Fowler and a CIA employee about Tamraz's oil pipeline.
According to the memos, Fowler asked for help gaining access to Vice President Al Gore regarding the pipeline and for any correspondence the CIA employee may have been preparing for Gore on the matter. There is no record Tamraz ever met with the vice president. Tamraz did have other meetings in the White House, however, including with President Clinton.
"I understand the implications," Fowler said of one of the memos. "But it does not refresh my memory."
Democrats later released a statement from "Bob," as the CIA employee was identified, which said he had been under cover at the time and that Fowler may not have been aware that he was with the agency.
Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) used his time to blunt the allegations of Democratic aid to a possibly unsavory character, pointing out that Tamraz never received any preferential treatment from the Clinton Administration, and that in the end, his oil pipeline deal never went through.
Glenn also produced a flurry of memos that pointed out Tamraz' generous support of the Republican Party, and the generous access that the GOP promised him in return.
Glenn gleefully went through the details of Republican entreaties to get Tamraz to join the Republicans' "Senatorial Inner Circle." Those invitations went out in February of this year, long after Tamraz's name had been splashed across headlines as a problem Democratic donor. What Glenn didn't mention is that the letter -- a form letter -- had gone out to tens of thousands of people.
Fowler also testified about the controversial political event at the Buddhist temple, saying that he had been concerned about it at first. Fowler said his concerns were alleviated when he determined that the temple was also used as a community center, and he compared its role to that of Southern black churches during the civil rights movement.
Fowler said he didn't mention fund-raising at the event and neither did the vice president or the temple master.
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