TOPICS > Politics

Under the Influence?

September 17, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: A central question in these Senate Government Affairs Committee hearings is whether Democratic Party officials ever pressured people in the federal government on behalf of major donors to the 1996 campaign. Today, Sheila Heslin, who worked at the White House National Security Council, testified she got such pressure in late 1995 on behalf of a disreputable Democratic donor.

SHEILA HESLIN: He had a highly controversial history. And then the agency, the CIA, also provided some information which indicated, well, a very controversial past.

KWAME HOLMAN: That controversial figure was Roger Tamraz–an international oilman and native of Lebanon who contributed $300,000 to the Democratic National Committee in 1995 and ’96. Tamraz made no secret of his desire to use the contributions to get U.S. support for an oil pipeline project in Central Asia. Heslin said she agreed to see Tamraz at her White House office to check him out for herself.

SHEILA HESLIN: He said to me, basically, I don’t want to ever build a pipeline, he said, I–what I want to do is gain the exclusive rights over these transportation routes, which would force everybody to come to me, put a deal together; and then I’m going to charge 5 percent of the overall cost of that deal, which would be $125 million, and then I’m going to get out and let somebody else do the building. That, for me, was the clincher because that was–we had seen other deals that had been put together in a similar way. It was beginning to destabilize governments in the region because they were having no money come into their countries. So it was part of our policy..

KWAME HOLMAN: Heslin said she was surprised to learn Tamraz continued to attend White House social functions despite her explicit warnings against allowing him to do that?

HAROLD DAMELIN, Republican Counsel: At that time, did you have any knowledge of the fact that Mr. Tamraz, in fact, had been at the White House functions with the President on September 11 and September 15, 1995? These were DNC-sponsored events.


KWAME HOLMAN: Heslin testified her agency’s final recommendation on the oil pipeline issue left out Tamraz’s plan altogether. But she said that did not stop the calls in support of him. Several came from “Bob”–code name for a senior official of the CIA’s operations arm.

SHEILA HESLIN: It was one of I would say four calls Bob made to me between June and October, which were–can only be characterized as lobbying in favor of Roger Tamraz.

HAROLD DAMELIN: Was he looking to get you in October to change your position on Mr. Tamraz?

SHEILA HESLIN: He was trying to basically–yes-scare me into this notion that this pipeline was going forward without the U.S. Government and that that would be very bad. So he would, you know, tell me, well, you know, the financing really is arranged. Well, you know, Moscow is really on board; well, you know, all these things are working out. And, you know, it just didn’t make sense to me and I actually got very angry at him during that telephone conversation, because I had been at the NSC till 10, 11, 12, you know, that week, and I was missing the Terra Petrocean Dinner. You know, it was like the last thing I needed.

KWAME HOLMAN: Heslin said shortly thereafter she got another call seeking help for Tamraz, this one from Don Fowler, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

SHEILA HESLIN: He said, hello, Sheila–hello, Ms. Heslin, this is Don Fowler of the DNC, and I’m calling to inform you that Bob–using his full name–of the CIA will be sending you a report on Roger Tamraz so that you will not have–you will understand everything about his background and you won’t have any further concerns about having him go into the White House. And I tell you, I was shocked.

HAROLD DAMELIN: After you got this phone call from Mr. Fowler, did you immediately call Ms. Souderberg?

SHEILA HESLIN: Actually, I think I tried to call Nancy, but there was a delay in her getting back to me. She was the deputy national security adviser. I actually also called the directorate of intelligence at the CIA and I said, you know, what the hell is going on, why are you guys–why are you guys, you know, why are your people working with Fowler? But Nancy did get back to me, yes. Nancy was very upset. She felt that we shouldn’t be interfered with by political people like that. She was very angry that Fowler had done that.

KWAME HOLMAN: Finally, Heslin said she got one more call about Roger Tamraz–a call she described as the most disturbing of her career. It came from Jack Carter, a senior official at the Department of Energy who invoked the name of presidential adviser Mack McLarty.

SHEIAL HESLIN: He was calling basically at the behest of Mack McLarty, who had recently met with Roger Tamraz and really liked his pipeline proposal. I told him that, you know, well, there’s nothing there, you know that, Jack. And he said, well, Mack McLarty really likes him and he wants him to have a meeting with the President. And I said, you know, absolutely not, Jack. Jack said, this would mean a lot of money for the DNC. And I said to Jack, well, I don’t really care about $100,000. And he said this is not $100,000; this is five or six times that amount. And I said, what do you mean, and he said, well, he’s already given $200,000, and if he got a meeting with the President, he will give the DNC another $400,000.

I never had a conversation like that with Jack before since he is a gentleman and he wasn’t very gentlemanly during that talk. And he said that–he said that Mack was also representing this because the President wanted him to do this, and that I–I told him that I didn’t believe him, that the President was–he didn’t have contact with the President. I knew he had contact with McLarty, but I knew he didn’t have contact with the President. And I told him that if the President wanted this, I would have been tasked through my chain of command by Tony and Sandy, and if I were–and he said, well, Mack can push this through, and I told him that if Mack tried, I didn’t care who he was, I was going to go to Tony and I would block it. He told me that I shouldn’t be such a Girl Scout.

HAROLD DAMELIN: Did you go in and talk to Ms. Souderberg about that phone call?

SHEILA HESLIN: Nancy was deeply concerned. She said to me–I told her what the conversation was, and she said to me, “Oh, my God, Mack shouldn’t be doing that; he should know better. That’s illegal.” He said–she said to me–I said to her, well, I think you should go to Mack and tell him, you know, to basically not try to have any–arrange any meeting with the President for Roger Tamraz. She said to me, she said to me, “Prominent Americans see the President all the time. Roger Tamraz is a prominent American. There’s nothing you can do about that.”

KWAME HOLMAN: Immediately after Heslin’s testimony ranking Committee Democrat John Glenn read a statement from Mack McLarty sent to the committee this morning.

SEN. JOHN GLENN: “I want to make it clear to you and the members of the committee that I never spoke to Carter about Tamraz. I never suggested to him or anyone else that they contact Ms. Heslin, and I certainly did not ask or authorize Mr. Carter to invoke my name with her. I did not discuss Mr. Tamraz’s contributions to the DNC or any other political entity. I had no idea what they were. I had two brief contacts with Mr. Tamraz. Mr. Tamraz did not ask me to do anything with respect to his pipeline project, and I did not offer to do anything about it. We did not discuss campaign contributions.”

KWAME HOLMAN: And in his testimony last week the DNC’s Fowler said he could not recall contacting the CIA on behalf of Roger Tamraz. The Senate hearings resume in the morning.