FEBRUARY 25, 1997
A storm continues to brew around the White House with allegations that the Lincoln bedroom has been given out for overnight stays in return for campaign donations. President Clinton has denied that any such practice has been going on and that all 938 guests were friends and workers from his 1992 campaign. In face of the President's denials Congress prepares to start probing all White House fundraising activities. For a closer look at this story, Elizabeth Farnsworth talks to Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), who is heading up the House investigations as Chairman of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee and Lanny Davis, special White House counsel.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
A RealAudio version of Kwame Holman's setup piece is available.
February 25, 1997:
Elizabeth Farnsworth discusses the growing DNC fundraising scandal with Rep. Dan Burton (R-IN), chairman of one of the four investigations into the issue.
November 28, 1996:
Margaret Warner discusses campaign finance reform with three members of Congress.
November 28, 1996:
The NewsHour's Kwame Holman reports on this year's efforts to reform campaign financing and how "soft money" may have been the biggest story of this election.
November 18, 1996:
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) discusses campaign finance reform and his party's role in the 105th Congress.
October 25, 1996:
Mark Shields and Paul Gigot discuss the role of money in this election year.
October 24, 1996:
Ross Perot blasts what he sees as President Clinton's corruption.
October 21, 1996:
Margaret Warner examines campaign money and its sources.
October 21, 1996:
A panel debates campaign finance reform and allegations of illegal foreign contributions and egregious misuse of lots of "soft money".
October 18, 1996:
Margaret Warner reports on the recent emergence of campaign finance issues on the campaign trail.
Oct. 18, 1996:
Ellen Miller, director of the Center for Responsive Politics, participates in an Online Forum on campaign finance reform.
Oct. 11, 1996:
Shields & Gigot debate the latest accusations of campaign finance abuses.
Oct. 6, 1996:
Bob Dole and Bill Clinton discuss campaign finance reform during the first presidential debate.
Sept. 29, 1996:
The leaders of Congress discuss reforming the system during the Debate Night: The Future Congress.
Aug. 16, 1996:
Margaret Warner looks at the corporate lobbying and sponsorship at the national conventions.
June 28, 1996:
Shields and Gigot look at the failed attempt to pass the McCain-Feingold reform.
June 28, 1996:
Ellen Miller participates in an Online Forum on the campaign finance reform efforts.
June 24, 1996:
Senator Feingold defends the McCain- Feingold campaign finance reform bill against an opponent
April 15, 1996:
NewsHour coverage of "soft" money contributions.
April 10, 1996:
NewsHour coverage of complaints against organized labor for millions of dollars in campaign spending.
June 24, 1996:
Senators John McCain of Arizona and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin tried, but failed, to pass campaign reform legislation.
Browse the Online NewsHour's congressional coverage.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now the White House view. Lanny Davis is special counsel to the President. Mr. Davis, thank you for being with us.
LANNY DAVIS, Special White House Counsel: You're welcome.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You heard what Rep. Burton said. What is your response to his comments about the President having--whatever he has said--sold the White House bedrooms--Lincoln Bedroom?
LANNY DAVIS: First, let me say we respect Congressman Burton's efforts to seek the truth. This is a serious matter. The White House is dedicated to cooperate to the maximum extent we can, and we hope that Congressman Burton won't jump to the conclusions that I hear him jumping to just tonight, which are conclusions not supported by actual evidence. For example, he said many times that what the President said was if you give fifty or a hundred thousand dollars, you can sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom. That is simply not true. The document does not say that. I think that, with all due respect to the Congressman, he misread or misspoke in relating what the document said. What the President said is, we have a lot of friends and a lot of supporters who after the ‘92 election that we didn't reach out to, and when it was proposed to him that individuals be invited to the White House for coffees, he did say let's have them stay overnight; they are my friends; they've been with me through thick and thin. And he also said, I'd like to know who gave substantial contributions, who are friends of mine, who we haven't reached out to, and that's what the note was about. The Congressman simply misquoted, I think repeatedly, what the note said.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What about the Congressman's point that 938 people is a lot of people to spend the night in the White House?
LANNY DAVIS: Well, I don't know the level of friendships that the Congressman has experienced over the years of his distinguished career, but I do know that President Clinton has accumulated friends from throughout the United States. Eight hundred of those nine hundred are in categories of people from Arkansas and people who he's known for many years. A hundred or so are people who are political supporters, people who have contributed money as friends and as supporters. It is not unusual--there's nothing wrong about his inviting friends to the White House. The Congressman draws a conclusion that they were required to give money, or there was a price tag or a rental value. There is simply no evidence of that. The President has denied that categorically. The Congressman can cite no evidence to contradict that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Although, Mr. Davis, the same "New Yorker" article I referred to speaking to the Congressman mentioned interviewing somebody who'd been invited to spend the night and said, you know, I really didn't know the President, he wouldn't have known who I was; I was just there because I was rich. So journalists have given some evidence that perhaps people were invited who weren't close friends.
LANNY DAVIS: Well, we've given out the entire list. We would like to examine any contrary allegation. If somebody was told that on an invitation, that is contrary to what the President would have approved, and if that does come to pass and the President were ever informed about it, he would be extremely upset about it. But I believe that the President has said exactly the truth. These are people; these are friends; these are donors who have been friends through the years. They are invited to the White House, to the residence, to stay overnight, and there is simply no basis for saying that there was a price tag put on these invitations.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And what about the coffees, were they the same sort of thing, or were they a little different?
LANNY DAVIS: I think the coffees are the same sort of thing, but they certainly were part of an overall effort by the President in a difficult election year to gain political support, to raise money. These events did not require any contributions to be made. There was never a solicitation for money at these events, but of course, the President hoped that people in this category of friends and prior supporters would give money afterwards. And, in fact, many did, and many did not. Many gave to Sen. Dole. Let me also point out that it is certainly appropriate for the President of the United States in an election year where the Republicans out-raised him by two to one, where the Republicans had hundred thousand dollar clubs and hundred and seventy-five thousand dollar clubs promising access to leadership in Congress, to members of Congressman Burton's party, it is certainly appropriate for the President to be concerned about some level playing field and to try to raise enough money in a contentious election year for there to be a competitive contest here.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You've said that there was not an explicit tit for tat with the coffees, but if there's a list of people, as there have been in the press, CEO of Bankers Trust, the head of a health organization that came, and within days of the coffee, in fact, one came to four coffees; this is--Robert Elkin, the chairman of Integrated Health Services, goes to four coffees and within four days of each writes checks for fifty to seventy-five thousand dollars. Doesn't it look to people out in the country as if--even if it's not explicit--it's implicit--and everybody here understands the rules?
LANNY DAVIS: I think the American people recognize that these coffees had as one of the purposes the hope and expectation that after they hear the President of the United States, they're going to write a check and help us compete against the Republican who out spent us by two to one. Nobody watching this program fails to understand that this process requires excessive amounts of money and that in requiring excessive amounts of money, there are irregularities that occur on both sides of the aisle. The President has asked for campaign finance reform to clean this mess up. He's joined with Sen. McCain, a leader in the Republican Senate, but he can't get the other Republican leaders, including, I believe, the Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Lott, to join him in cleaning this up. And he has accepted responsibility for some of these excesses that occurred on the Democratic side, but does anybody watching really believe that this is just a Democratic Party problem? It's both parties' problem. That's why we need campaign finance reform.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, Mr. Davis, on to the matter of donations perhaps coming from foreign sources. You heard what Rep. Burton said about that.
LANNY DAVIS: Yes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: They're looking into several different cases of this and that they're having trouble with Jon Huang, who was a former administration employee in the Commerce Department and a, I think, vice chairman of fund-raising in the finance--or vice chairman of finance in the Democrat National Committee— having trouble getting documents from him because he's citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. What is the White House investigation finding about this?
LANNY DAVIS: First of all, we are fully committed, as I said, to cooperate with all the investigations and the committee chairs. The President announced today in releasing all these documents that he will not assert executive privilege. And we will work with Congressman Burton and everybody that is interested in getting these facts out. The President wants to get the facts out. As to individuals who have left the administration, I believe Congressman Burton mis-spoke when he called them administration officials. They're no longer members of the administration; they're under advice of counsel; so we're obviously not going to comment on their own choices, but as a White House, as an administration, we are dedicated to cooperating, to getting the facts out, and to moving on and enacting campaign finance reform.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, as you know, there have been reports--there have been each week new reports about people who were invited to these coffees, people who, for example, work for very--in a high level capacity for the Chinese government or for various Chinese government-controlled economic entities, and they'd come to the White House to these coffees. Is that just something that was improper vetting, or do you think that that is a proper way to proceed?
LANNY DAVIS: There's no question the President was disappointed, chagrined, even embarrassed by inappropriate people being brought to some of these events with lax vetting procedures. At the White House now we have new and tightened procedures. The President has accepted responsibility once again, has implemented these tightened procedures which, by the way, are procedures that didn't exist in prior administrations, and we believe now it will not happen again, but certainly we do believe some people who were acquaintances of the President took advantage of that friendship, and exercised poor judgment in the kinds of people they brought here.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And finally, Rep. Burton said he thought an independent counsel should be named, and, as you know, Sen. Trent Lott today called for that. What do you think about that?
LANNY DAVIS: We trust the attorney general's decision to apply a law which has strict criteria for the appointment of an independent counsel, to the facts of the situation. She's exercised that judgment in the past, where Sen. Lott praised her independent judgment. We believe that decision rests with her.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, Mr. Davis, thank you for being with us.
LANNY DAVIS: Thank you.