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Party Favors?

September 9, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT
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KWAME HOLMAN: From the outset, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee’s hearings have focused on the 1996 fund-raising activities of the Democratic National Committee. Today was the first time the committee heard from Don Fowler, who was chairman of DNC when it raised nearly $350 million in contributions. Some 3 million of that was returned because it came from foreign or questionable sources.

DON FOWLER, Former DNC Chairman: We at the Democratic National Committee made mistakes. As chair of the Democratic National Committee, I accept responsibility for those mistakes. To the best of my knowledge, there was no intent by DNC officials to accept money from foreign–illegal foreign sources, despite the pressing needs during the campaign to raise large sums of money to compete with the far better financed campaigns of our opposition party, no one, no one at the White House, not the President, not the Vice President, not anyone else suggested that we cut corners, that we avoid rooms, or that we do anything other than comply fully with every rule, every law, and every ethical standard.

KWAME HOLMAN: Fowler says that applied to the highly publicized event attended by Vice President Gore at a Buddhist temple outside Los Angeles in April 1996. Improper contributions resulted from the event, but Fowler disputed claims by committee Republicans that the event was designed to be a fund-raiser.

DON FOWLER: It was, in essence, a fund-raising event, but it was more than that. It was not an event, a fund-raising event like many events are. There was no specifically designated sum of money required to be admitted. There was nobody at the door taking up tickets, nobody at the door receiving checks. Some people contributed prior to the time they came, and some people contributed after they came. Many people who came did not contribute at all. It was, in fact, part of a political outreach that the Democratic National Committee had with the Asian community. It was a blended event, if you will, partly political and partly fund-raising.

KWAME HOLMAN: Committee Republicans were more interested today in legal contributions, especially those of 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. officials to support an oil pipeline project in Central Asia. Committee Chairman Fred Thompson read from a memo from one of Fowler’s DNC staffers that raised questions about Tamraz’s reputation.

SEN. FRED THOMPSON, Chairman, Senate Governmental Affairs Committee: Mr. Tamraz expressed his desire to contribute $300,000 to the DNC. Indeed, his contribution is greatly appreciated and highly needed, however, his past involvement in shaky international business and paramilitary organizations may generate considerable problems for the DNC. Mr. Tamraz seeks political leverage to secure his oil vents in the Russian Republic. Our association with Mr. Tamraz should be well defined, a difficult task, given his complex business connections and political associations; his business background has proved to be full of significant financial and ethical troubles. Pay attention to these warning signals! I hope this memo has provided you with the information needed. Do you recall receiving this memorandum?

SEN. DON FOWLER: I do not, Chairman. It is obviously a matter of record, but I do not recall this memo.

KWAME HOLMAN: Thompson noted press reports that Tamraz asked Fowler to contact the CIA and to get the agency to clear Tamraz’s name. Thompson said other officials also warned Fowler against dealing with Raja Tamraz, including the national security agency.

SEN. FRED THOMPSON: We have a memorandum from the NSC or the NSA, I should say, from Mr. Fuerth, raising questions about Mr. Tamraz. Then you have a meeting with Mr. Tamraz again. All this time he’s making contributions, and obviously he is suggesting to you from this memorandum that you contact the CIA presumably on his behalf. Did you contact the CIA on his behalf?

DON FOWLER: Senator, this is a critical point in my mind and judgment. When I first read reports that I had contacted the CIA on behalf of Mr. Tamraz, I have to tell you that I was flabbergasted, to say the least. As I said, in my deposition, when I was asked about this, that I am very sensitive to the implications of perjury statutes, but I have in the middle of the night–high noon–late in the afternoon–early in the morning, every hour of the day, for months now searched my memory about conversations with the CIA. And I have no memory, no memory of any conversation with the CIA.

KWAME HOLMAN: Thompson then brought forward two memos from CIA officials saying Fowler had, indeed, asked for their help in aiding Roger Tamraz.

SEN. FRED THOMPSON: Well, this memorandum is dated December 28, 1995, CIA memorandum, for the record. And it says, “In fact, on December 13th, Don Fowler called CE Division to ask if it could provide a letter on Tamraz to clear Tamraz’ name with the President. Fowler was told that such information should be sought at the White House, and that we are legally forbidden from discussing any revelation Tamraz may or may not have had with the agency.” So you don’t recall calling anyone–

SEN. DON FOWLER: No, sir. No, sir.

SEN. FRED THOMPSON: –over there?

SEN. DON FOWLER: I do not.

KWAME HOLMAN: Fowler said he thinks CIA officials may have called him about Tamraz. Nonetheless, despite such warnings about Tamraz, he openly attended several White House social events and once spoke directly to the President about the pipeline project. Ranking Committee Democrat John Glenn used his time to point out that Democrats weren’t the only ones who sought campaign funds from businessman Tamraz.

SEN. JOHN GLENN, (D) Ohio: Apparently, Mr. Tamraz wasn’t looked at as such a heavy character in February of this year. We have a letter to Mr. Tamraz from New York. That’s Exhibit 1065 M–on the stationery of Sen. Trent Lott. And it says, “Today, I am asking you to do me the additional honor of helping me fulfill this awesome responsibility by accepting your nomination to join the exclusive Republican senatorial inner circle.” That’s in February, February 12th of this year. Inviting him to still come in shows the length to which we go where we don’t screen our lists and offer something, and so we’re putting out things that I’m sure the Republican side and the people I mentioned here would like to retract–their invitations to Mr. Tamraz now. Maybe they already have. The exhibit is something that needs to be corrected in our whole political system. And that’s the point that I want to make.

DON FOWLER: Then I agree with that.

SEN. JOHN GLENN: It’s not just wrong on the Democratic side; it’s wrong on the Republican side; it’s wrong on anybody else’s side.

KWAME HOLMAN: Former DNC Chairman Fowler said such circumstances are typical of the political money chase.

DON FOWLER: It seems to me that any institution, whether it’s a political party or a university, or some other–operation that depends on private contributions to sustain themselves are going to pay more attention to people who give lots of money than they’re going to pay attention to people who give a little bit of money. That’s just human nature.

KWAME HOLMAN: The campaign fund-raising hearings continue tomorrow.