Let's Go To The Videotape (TIME, 10/13/97)
Campaign-Finance Fight Cools Friendships (CQ, 9/29/97)
Gavel To Gavel: AllPolitics' Campaign Fund-Raising Special Report
Coffee With The President
By John King/CNN
WASHINGTON (Oct. 7) -- It is a moment most Americans can only dream of: An intimate chat with the leader of the free world over coffee.
Some talked golf; others, girth. Even multi-millionaire New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner couldn't believe his luck. "I wouldn't have missed it," he told Clinton.
But there is more to this than small talk in the map room where Franklin Roosevelt planned D-Day. It is an extraordinary snapshot of a president shuffling between policy and politics
Former Democratic Party chairman Don Fowler had 27 million reasons to be thankful -- that's how many dollars guests at White House coffees contributed to help the Democrats in 1996.
When the fund-raising controversy first broke, the president portrayed himself as a detached figure, once even chiding his own party. "I was livid and stunned after all we've been through in the last twenty years, that could have happened," he said last year. (256K wav sound)
But these tapes vividly illustrate the very different story of a hands-on president eagerly opening his home, and his historic office.
Minutes before one Oval Office meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Clinton hosted wealthy investors for coffee. One week later, four of the men gave $100,000 each to the Democrats.
This was a campaign modeled after Ronald Reagan's "Morning In America," a president basking in peace and prosperity. The images were paid for in part by these busy mornings in the White House.
Coffees became routine, an urgent part of the president's day. Aides were bluntly told to free up more of the boss' time.
The videos don't show money changing hands, but records show attendees gave large amounts before and after the coffees. Publisher Vance Opperman gave the Democrats $155,000 just two days before one coffee. Six days after another coffee, DNC contributor Mark Jiminez gave another $50,000 to the Democrats.
Some guests dropped names; others dropped off handicrafts. "It's a basket from the forests of New Hampshire that my wife made," one attendee says on a tape. Another man brought gifts of a different sort.
"I have five checks for you," he can be heard saying.
Just out view, Fowler says he can't accept the checks inside the White House. "I'm sorry," he tells the man. "As soon as this thing is over, I'll call and we'll get it done. I'm sorry."
The White House says the president stayed within the law by not making direct pitches for campaign cash. But there's no doubt he entered the room with money on his mind. One tape shows Clinton and former Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes discussing the staggering cost of campaign ads.
"Two million dollars," one of them says. And in another hallway huddle, "I think they will give more."
Along with the money talk, the cameras captured a few nervous glances. One from top Clinton fund-raiser Laura Hartigan, and from the president himself.
Shortly after one coffee, the president's White House guest was Attorney General Janet Reno. As Clinton explains why the tapes were kept secret so long, Reno must answer critics who demand to know why her investigation never found them, and what really went on in those coffees once the cameras stopped rolling.
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