Ex-Ron Brown Partner Claims Clintons Backed 'Sale' Of Trade Seats
By Terry Frieden/CNN
WASHINGTON (March 23) -- A former business partner of the late Commerce
Secretary Ron Brown testified in U.S. District Court Monday that Brown had told her President and Mrs. Clinton supported a White House plan to sell seats on international trade missions to raise campaign contributions.
Nolanda Hill, who is under federal indictment for fraudulent business practices, claimed Brown was angered when White House political operatives forced him to provide seats on trade missions as a fund-raising device.
Hill painted a picture of her friend Brown as furious with the White House, and especially first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, for instigating the plan. "I'm not a [mother-expletive deleted] tour guide for Hillary," Brown complained privately to Hill, according to her account.
Brown's business associate also testified that toward the end of his life the Commerce secretary had said he was just "doing my chores for Hillary Rodham Clinton." Hill further said Brown resented the first lady and the "Arkansas crowd" of insiders for perverting the trade missions, with the apparent blessing of the president himself.
Hill said of Brown: "Ultimately, he believed the president of the United
States was at least tangentially involved."
Brown was killed when the government plane carrying one of his international trade missions crashed into a mountainside in Croatia in 1996.
Hill portrayed Brown as fearing he was an outsider in the Clinton Administration, despite his ties to the president while serving as head of the Democratic National Committee.
"He never felt he had that strong a position and he was always worried,"
Hill said. Hill claimed Brown had privately complained that he was also
racially "demeaned by that Arkansas crowd."
Hill said Brown once showed her a stack of documents on Commerce
Department letterhead suggesting to contributors their gifts could help win trade mission seats. She said Brown was furious that one his aides had written the letters. "He knew it was not right," Hill testified. She said she urged Brown not to destroy the documents because an independent counsel was investigating and it would be seen as obstruction of justice. "I told him it was a great risk because surely they existed someplace else," she said.
Hill testified, often grudgingly, under prodding by staunch administration critic Larry Klayman. The head of a group named Judicial Watch, Klayman called Hill to testify in his lawsuit to force the Commerce Department to release documents which he claims will confirm the sale of the trade mission seats for campaign gifts of $50,000 or more.
Hill said the principal contact at the White House was the office of Alexis Herman, now Clinton's Labor secretary. Hill also named an assistant to Herman as the contact with Melissa Moss, the Commerce official who wrote the contribution letters which angered Brown.
Hill admitted she had once described what the White House had done to
Brown's missions as "turning his baby into a street-level protection racket."
Summing up the morning session Klayman asked Hill, "Ron Brown believed the president knew the trade mission seats were for sale, and the mission was being perverted?"
"Yes," Hill replied.
U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth, who presided over the proceedings, rejected efforts by Hill to have the session closed to the press and public. Lamberth also rejected her request not to testify because the testimony could adversely affect her defense against pending federal charges.