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
Roadblocks To Reform
WASHINGTON (Oct. 7) -- Witnesses who leave the country or take the Fifth Amendment. Evidence that's a day late and a dollar short. And a Justice Department often surprised by evidence that does turn up. Chairman Fred Thompson has had it, and this time it's personal.
"Mr. President, I would suggest this is your campaign," the Tennessee Republican stormed today during his committee's public hearing. "These were your supporters. These were your friends, many of them longtime friends. Much of this money that was raised, illegal money, was for your campaign and your re-election. This is your White House. This is your Department of Justice, and these are your tapes. And you have a responsibility." (288K wav sound)
Thompson's furor ignited when the White House coughed up a batch of video tapes showing the opening minutes of more than 40 White House coffees.
In one, as the photographer was leaving the room, Don Fowler, former co-chairman of the Democratic National Committee, thanked the attendees for coming and identified them as a group of the DNC's "loyal and generous supporters."
At that point, the door closes and the tape ends. Democrats insist the tapes show business as usual.
Said Michigan Democrat Carl Levin: "In terms of entertaining at the White House, come on -- presidents have entertained their contributors and supporters at the White House probably since presidents were elected."
The White House defends the delayed release of the tapes as an oversight. But it was one oversight too many for Republicans.
"They turned the White House, Air Force One, and anything else that had to do with the presidency into a fund-raising money machine and, frankly, and very bluntly, they conspired to cover it up," declared New Hampshire Republican Bob Smith.
Attorney General Janet Reno didn't know the tapes existed until after she sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch. In that letter, she pretty much said she was aware of no evidence to show the coffees were illegal.
Said Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter: "It may be that the ultimate answer is to replace the attorney general with a judicial appointment here. Because this attorney general is not doing the job, and this president cannot be called upon to credibly replace the attorney general."
But there is some evidence Reno feels burned this time around. Senior government sources say the Justice Department has called White House attorney Lanny Breuer to testify about the videos tomorrow before the grand jury.
Campaign reform hits a brick wall in the Senate
The Thompson Committee implosion came just hours before the Senate effectively killed campaign finance reform.
"Those two cloture votes that we just took, in my opinion, put an end to campaign finance reform at this time," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said. "They end the drive for phony reform." (288K wav sound)
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who had championed the McCain-Feingold bill, called it "ironic that as we investigate infractions, as we investigate allegations, the response is simply let's do nothing." (384K wav sound)
As the Senate stalemated, the standing-room-only crowd at the Thompson hearings finally got what it came for, the testimony of Harold Ickes, the president's campaign pointman, sharp-tongued and unrepentant.
"To raise the funds, to stay competitive, it was necessary and appropriate to involve the president and vice president in fund-raising activities. I so advised them and I have no regret," he said during an opening statement.
Ickes' went unchallenged when the committee ran out of time. But he'll be back Wednesday to face Republicans, who are increasingly convinced the White House is hiding something, and Democrats, who believe the hearings are pointless if campaign reform is dead.
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