Reno holds on to fund-raising probe Attorney general says there's no need for special prosecutor


WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Janet Reno rejected yesterday a call from Congress for a special prosecutor to probe campaign fund raising by President Clinton and the Democratic Party. It was the fourth time Reno has declined to give up control of the investigation.

"I am unable to agree, based on the facts and the law, that an independent counsel should be appointed to handle this investigation," Reno wrote to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican.

"A task force of career Justice Department prosecutors and FBI agents is pursuing the investigation vigorously and diligently, and it will continue to do so."

Republican leaders reacted angrily.

"As a historian, I do not see any possible way for the attorney general to defend the decision not to have an independent counsel," House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia said at a fund-raiser in York, Pa.

He added that her reluctance brings "into question whether she is the protector of the president or the enforcer of the law."

Yesterday was busy on a host of fronts relating to the ever-widening fund-raising controversy, as the White House and the Democratic Party made public thousands of documents in an orchestrated effort that stretched to Arkansas.

At the White House, such disclosures are called "document dumps" -- and, by design, yesterday's was the biggest one yet.

Presidential press secretary Mike McCurry, who has taken the brunt of the criticism for releasing embarrassing information in dribs and drabs, quipped to his staff that this one would be the "mother of all document dumps."

Included in the vast stack of papers were the following:

More than 10,000 pages from the files of Democratic National Committee fund-raiser John Huang, who has been at the center of the fund-raising scandal.

Those documents showed that Huang, a Commerce Department official before he went to the DNC, was active in facilitating contacts between government officials and executives with business interests in Asia.

They also reveal the extent to which Democratic fund-raisers were given a leg up on everything from White House jobs to ambassadorships and appointment to the federal bench.

A 10-page list of Democratic donors who flew free on Air Force One and Air Force Two, the vice president's plane, in 1995 and 1996.

Of the 477 guests on Air Force One in 1995 and 1996, 56 were identified as major financial supporters -- defined as those who gave at least $5,000 or helped raise $25,000 or more for the DNC or the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign.

But White House officials refused to divulge the rest of the names. Moreover, the list didn't cover 1993 or 1994 -- years when Clinton and the Democrats raised more than $40 million in large-donor contributions.

Three of the donors who flew on Air Force One did so after they hired former top Justice Department official Webster L. Hubbell while he was under criminal investigation by Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr.

Hubbell was later jailed for bilking clients, but his lack of cooperation with Starr has led the prosecutor to open a second probe to see if retaining Clinton's old Little Rock friend was intended to buy his silence on Whitewater.

One of the three Hubbell benefactors who went on Air Force One was Truman Arnold, an oilman and DNC finance officer.

In Arkansas, a foundation raising money to preserve Clinton's birthplace released the list of its 2,000 donors.

Some of the largest donations were raised overseas -- though such contributions are legal because the foundation is not a public or government group.

Included among those benefactors were three Asian firms: Nissan Motor Corp., Sanyo Electric and Century Tube Corp., all of which donated $25,000 or more. The foundation has raised $800,000, most of it in contributions less than $250.

White House officials also discussed for the first time those who were guests of the president at Camp David.

The administration did not make the list public, but according to deputy communications director Ann F. Lewis, the Maryland getaway was not used the way the Lincoln Bedroom was, to reward big donors.

The president visited Camp David only 25 times in the past four years. Those who accompanied him were invariably "family members or close friends of the family," Lewis said.

The only major contributor was Vernon Jordan, a close friend of the president. Jordan and his wife, Ann, were invited for Thanksgiving 1995 and a subsequent visit. Hubbell also visited the president there July 4, 1994.

Hubbell's name had a way of cropping up yesterday. Among the voluminous papers in Huang's files was one that listed Hubbell as a guest at a June 1994 dinner at which the president thanked his big fund-raisers. The document showed him at a table with Truman Arnold.

Also listed as being in attendance was top National Security zTC Council official Nancy Soderberg. She was seated, according to the guest list, at a table with James Riady of the Lippo Group, an Indonesian conglomerate.

Riady, his family and their companies have contributed nearly a half-million dollars to the Democratic Party and its candidates since 1991. Lippo also paid Hubbell $100,000 after Hubbell left the Justice Department.

The Huang files also provide an unvarnished look at how, from its very inception, the Clinton administration institutionalized a system of rewarding contributors.

A Dec. 21, 1992, memo from top DNC officials to the Clinton transition team stated: "We urge you to consider strongly the following leading national fund raisers who are interested in serving in the White House. We are pleased to sponsor these 'must considers.' "

Of the 55 names that followed, at least 19 were given appointments, ambassadorships or potentially lucrative seats on foreign trade missions. At least one is being considered for a federal judgeship.

Among the names is Huang, then a Lippo executive in Los Angeles, who was recommended for an undersecretary job in Commerce that he subsequently landed. Others include the current White House chief of staff, Erskine B. Bowles, who was recommended for administrator of the Small Business Administration, a job he got; Arthur Levitt, who was appointed chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission; and five ambassadors: Alan Blinken (Belgium), his brother Donald Blinken (Hungary), Clay Constantinou (Luxembourg), Thomas Siebert (Sweden) and Joseph R. Paolino Jr. (Malta).

White House officials emphasized yesterday that rewarding big donors with ambassadorships and other posts is nothing new. "The only thing different about this is that some idiot put it in writing," said one top aide.

White House special counsel Lanny J. Davis defended the practice of rewarding supporters: "If it weren't done, it would be the first time in 100 years of American political history, maybe 200 years."

Pub Date: 4/15/97

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad