Senators Grill Ickes On Democratic Fund-Raising
Former Clinton aide says he knows of no wrongdoing
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Oct. 8) -- A feisty Harold Ickes today fended off Republican accusations of campaign finance abuses in President Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election effort, saying his mandate was to obey the law.
"We were littered with lawyers," said Ickes, who as Clinton's former deputy chief of staff served as the White House's point man for dealings with the Clinton-Gore campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Ickes, the day's only witness, testified he knew of no illegalities or Democratic discussions on how to evade a ban on overseas political contributions. Ickes said it would make no sense to try to break the law on foreign contributions, given the political risk.
"It doesn't make any sense," Ickes told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. "It doesn't make any political sense." (352K wav sound)
Under questioning by Sen. Fred Thompson, the panel's chairman, Ickes also denied any knowledge of an alleged contribution swap scheme involving the Teamsters Union and the DNC.
Ickes said he had no recollection of meeting one of the participants in the scheme, Martin Davis, who has pleaded guilty to conspiring to illegally finance Teamsters President Ron Carey's re-election.
"I wouldn't know him if he came in here and sat on my lap," Ickes said.
In the alleged scheme, Thompson said, the DNC would persuade a wealthy donor to give money to Carey's campaign, and in turn, the Teamsters would contribute money to the state Democratic parties. The arrangement is the subject of a criminal probe in New York.
Thompson cited White House logs showing that Davis, a consultant to Carey's re-election effort, and two Democratic fund-raisers, Terence McAuliffe and Laura Hartigan, visited the White House on June 17, 1996. Four days later, the union moved $236,500 to state and local Democratic organizations.
The White House has said the meeting was a larger event that drew other supporters, a point conceded later in the day by Thompson, who admitted he had left the wrong impression in his earlier comments. McAuliffe has acknowledged being approached about the scheme, but says he declined it. Hartigan has declined comment.
A tough witness
Ickes, an experienced political operative, was expected to be a tough witness, and he was. He quarreled with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) over her suggestions of influence-buying in connection with an Indian tribe's casino application. When Collins asked if one official was a political appointee, Ickes shot back, "Are you implying that political appointees lie?"
And when Collins said the record showed that contributors were able to get access to Democratic political appointees, Ickes replied, "And if you give enough money to Republican senators, you get access, too."
Ickes admitted only mistakes in judgment, as in his aggressive pursuit of an offer to donate $5 million to the Democrats. In hindsight, Ickes said he should have handed off the inquiry to the DNC, but handled it himself because the president asked him to look into it.
Ickes denied an accusation by an earlier witness, Warren Meddoff, who had testified that Ickes asked him to shred a document regarding the offer to contribute.
Ickes tangled with Republican Sen. Don Nickles, after Nickles suggested that he himself had destroyed his copy of that document.
This is how their exchange went:
Nickles: "There are some documents that disappeared. And obviously, we are talking about obstruction of justice. Mr. Meddoff testified that you informed him to destroy the document. He did not destroy the document. That's the document that we have before us."
Ickes: "If I may, senator, since you are now alleging that there was obstruction of justice ..."
Nickles: "I am trying to find out if there was obstruction of justice ..."
Ickes: "I think you are alleging it. The facts are as follows, senator. I never saw the original of that document, of that memorandum. I don't know where it is, I don't know whether it exists, it certainly is not in my files."
Nickles: "Well, if the White House ..."
Ickes: "If I may, senator, please ..."
Nickles: "Wait a minute, don't take up my 10 minutes. If the White House ..."
Ickes: "Senator, with all due respect ..."
Nickles: "If the White House faxed a document ..."
Ickes: "Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, the senator is alleging obstruction of justice. I think that I should have an opportunity to give a full explanation. I don't take allegations about obstruction of justice lightly, senator."
Later, as the hearing stretched into the evening, Nickles asked Ickes if the president's political friends were invited to ride on Air Force One.
"No, we basically invited people we didn't like," Ickes replied sarcastically. Nickles called that "a pretty flippant answer."
The two men also clashed after Nickles said Democrats had "flagrantly" violated the law, and cited John Huang's raising of illegal donations that the Democrats had to return when they couldn't verify the true source of the contributions.
"Nobody is condoning that," Ickes told Nickles. "Don't pin that on me. That's a cheap shot, senator."
The committee interrupted Ickes' questioning during the morning to wrangle again over subpoenas that Democrats have requested, but the Republican-led committee has not issued.
When Democratic Sen. Carl Levin complained about it, Thompson told him, "You can quibble about subpoenas," and the fight was on.
"This isn't a quibble," the Michigan Democrat said. (512K wav sound)
"It's a quibble," Thompson said. "We were going along pretty fine until we subpoenaed the AFL-CIO. Then all hell broke loose. They started calling members' offices, and then it all broke down."
"Let's enforce all the subpoenas," Levin said.
In a related development, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott raised the possibility that the Senate might extend the committee's investigation, which faces a Dec. 31 deadline, because of White House delays in producing evidence.
"I assume the Democrats would fight it all the way," Lott said.
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Wednesday Oct. 8, 1997
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