Tamraz: Contributions Bought White House Access
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Sep. 18) -- As blunt and unrepentant as he was colorful, international businessman Roger Tamraz said today that he made $300,000 in contributions to the Democratic Party in 1995 and 1996 with the hopes of gaining access to the White House. (382K wav sound)
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee investigating campaign fund-raising focused Thursday's hearing on the chain of events that allowed Tamraz into several social events attended by President Bill Clinton or Vice President Al Gore, despite objections from the National Security Council.
Tamraz had met with several government agencies to discuss his plan for a 930-mile oil pipeline between the Caspian and Mediterranean seas, and was trying to get a meeting to pitch the project to the Clinton Administration.
"If they kicked me out the door, I would go through the window," the millionaire oilman said, explaining his philosophy of persistence.
He made no bones about his method. When asked by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) if one of the reasons for the contributions was to gain access to White House officials, Tamraz responded, "Senator, I am going even further; it is the only reason."
Tamraz, a Lebanese-American currently wanted on embezzlement charges in Lebanon, has often been described as "questionable" or "shady." In his opening statement, Tamraz gave his side of the story, denying any wrongdoing and citing his past service to the American government.
"I would like to know why, after all that I have accomplished, lived through, seen and participated in, I should be deemed unfit to visit the White House. I have risked my life many times for this country for no material gain," Tamraz said.
How did Tamraz get in?
Tamraz did succeed in mentioning the pipeline project to the president in a "30-second" conversation at the White House in the spring of 1996. He also spoke about it with then-White House Chief of Staff Mack McClarty.
White House documents indicate Clinton asked McClarty to follow up. What happened after that is a matter of dispute between the other two witnesses appearing before the panel.
Former Energy Department official Jack Carter testified that Tamraz came up in a conversation with Kyle Simpson, an Energy Department colleague.
"He [Simpson] said, 'I got a call from Mack McClarty, and Mack wanted to know what we knew about Mr. Tamraz and whether Mr. Tamraz should have a meeting with the president,'" Carter said.
But in his testimony, Simpson denied the bulk of this. "McClarty did not suggest a meeting between the president and Tamraz," Simpson said.
Simpson also said that he did not speak about Tamraz' contributions with either Carter or McClarty.
Carter testified that during this conversation he told Simpson that in previous probes Tamraz had been deemed an inappropriate White House guest, but offered to speak to then-National Security Council staffer Sheila Heslin to confirm that the policy was still in place. (352K wav sound)
Setting the stage for these witnesses was Heslin's testimony on Wednesday. She testified that she was lobbied to withdraw her objections to White House access for Tamraz by a CIA agent referred to as "Bob," as well as Democratic National Committee Chairman Don Fowler and Carter.
Heslin said she felt political pressure from Carter, who told her during their telephone conversation in April 1996 that an entree for Tamraz was worth big bucks for the DNC. Carter acknowledged that he "mentioned there were contributions made and more to be made and that Mr. Tamraz wanted a meeting with the president."
But he denied trying to pressure Heslin with the mention of money, but was merely sharing information on a person whose background the two had discussed before.
The world according to Tamraz
Tamraz proved one of the more colorful and flamboyant witnesses to appear before the Senate hearings, alternately defiant and good-humored.
He said he had no idea so many people were lobbying for him to get in to see the president, but knows it was worth every penny. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) asked, "So do you think you got your money's worth? Do you feel badly about having given the $300,000?"
Tamraz' quip -- "I think next time I'll give $600,000!" -- was greeted by laughter in the chamber.
And as Tamraz reminded the committee, entrance into the White House does not guarantee the president's ear. "You think you get into the White House, you've won. But the fight begins when you get into the White House," he said.
"Then there is a guerilla fight to get close to the president... First the president is surrounded by the ladies because they swoon around him... Secondly you have his bodyguards, and thirdly you have his handlers, the same ones who get you into the White House are sure once you get in that you don't get the chance to get what you want," Tamraz said.
Though entertaining at times, Tamraz was also the most troubling witness to appear before the panel, and mostly members were not amused. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) accused the oilman of "gaming" the system and painting a distasteful and unseemly picture of it.
When asked if he was registered to vote, Tamraz said he was not. "So your participation in the political system is limited to contributions to campaigns?" Lieberman asked.
"This is a bit more than a vote," Tamraz replied.
Lieberman shot back, "That is the problem."
CNN's Candy Crowley contributed to this report.
In Other News:
Thursday Sept. 18, 1997
Tamraz: Contributions Bought White House Access
Partisan Politics And The Christian Coalition
N.Y. Runoff Canceled, Sharpton Files Suit
It's 'Day One' In Tobacco War
First Lady Asks Press To Respect Chelsea's Privacy
Helms Backs NATO Expansion
Albright Boosts Clinton Trade Plan
Internet Site To Monitor Kids TV
No Tobacco Settlement This Year
Clinton Promises To Protect Farmers
NATO Hints At Further Bosnia Role
NEA Survives Attack In Senate
Reno Defends Campaign Task Force
E-mail From Washington:
GOP Lawmakers Ask For Explanation Of Jones' Audit
Justice Wants O'Leary Probe
Justice Won't Object To Immunity Request
Gore Says He's Cooperating With Justice Department
House Ponders Barring Bob Dornan From The Floor
Gephardt Rips Clinton Trade Proposal