ICKES BEGINS HIS TESTIMONY
October 7, 1997
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KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee two weeks ago paused its investigative phase to focus on reforming campaign spending laws. Committee members have complained since then the hearings have been attended by few members of the press or public. Both were back in full force this morning to hear Harold Ickes, former Deputy White House Chief of Staff, and the principal strategist of the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign. First, however, Chairman Fred Thompson gave a long statement of his frustration with the White House and the Justice Department beginning with yesterday's belated release by the White House, a videotape of 44 coffees held in the Executive Mansion.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON, Chairman, Governmental Affairs Committee: How could White House personnel, including the President and all of them saw a camera in the room, not recall that they were being videotaped when these coffees have been at issue in this country for a long period of time? It is clear that the White House is trying to run out the clock on this committee. There's a clear pattern of delay, foot dragging, concealing with regard to this committee. These are the same people now who want to be trusted who say that this time we were merely incompetent. Our defense is that we were incompetent. That defense is wearing a little thin. Mr. President, I would suggest this is your campaign. These were your supporters, and these are your tapes. And now I think the American people expect you to step up to the plate and take responsibility because surely nobody wants this to go down looking like a successful cover-up of much more serious activities. No one who loves their country wants that.
KWAME HOLMAN: As members' opening statements continued, Republicans focused not on the President but on Attorney General Janet Reno.
SEN. PETE DOMENICI, (R) New Mexico: The attorney general is so inconsistent in her statements that I share with you a concern that the President of the United States ought to relieve her of her responsibility in the interest of seeing that the American people at least can feel a tiny bit like justice might be taking place in the Justice Department of the United States. She was not telling the truth. She told us every--every stone is being turned, every bit of evidence is being sought. Not so. She told the FBI they couldn't investigate certain things because she and her people had an interpretation of what they ought to be investigating that is absolutely incredible.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R) Pennsylvania: You, Sen. Domenici, are a very careful Senator, and when you say the attorney general is not telling the truth, that comes from a man who is a senior Senator on this committee. And it may be that the ultimate answer is to replace the attorney general with a judicial appointment here because this attorney general is not doing the job and this President cannot be called upon to credibly replace the attorney general.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, (D) Connecticut: It's very important to speak in a measured responsible way when we're speaking about the chief law enforcement officer of this country. You can disagree with her judgment. You can say that the people under her have been incompetent but I have seen nothing in this woman's life or record that tells me that anything she has done in this matter has been done for political reasons. It just doesn't fit.
SEN. ROBERT TORRICELLI, (D) New Jersey: Let me finally just say this about the circumstances in Janet Reno. The criticism she has received--the threats that have been made against her and the position she holds are the political equivalent of an obstruction of justice. In an ironic sort of way members of the majority have made it almost impossible for the attorney general to actually name an independent counsel. She's been threatened with impeachment, hearings. She should be immediately replaced. If the woman names an independent counsel, it's going to appear she was intimidated.
KWAME HOLMAN: Finally this afternoon, after being delayed by today's showdown Senate votes on campaign finance reform, President Clinton's top aide of the 1996 campaign, Harold Ickes, read his statement.
HAROLD ICKES, Former White House Deputy Chief of Staff: I know that it is customary for witnesses to express their great pleasure to appear before you. But because I am under oath, I am unable to say I share that sentiment. I want to state categorically that I know of no violation of law or inappropriate action by the President or the Vice President.
I was unaware of any violation of law by the White House staff, the leadership of the DNC, or the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign, or by the staffs of those two organizations. And I personally did not violate any law. To raise the funds to stay competitive it was necessary and fully appropriate to involve the President and Vice President in fund-raising activities. I so advised them and I have no regret.
In that regard I did on occasion ask the President and the Vice President to make a limited number of fund-raising telephone calls. I advised the President that it was proper to do so. I confirmed my understanding of the law with the White House Counsel's office before asking the President to make the calls and was told that he could make those calls from the White House, preferably from the residence.
To my knowledge, the President made few of those calls I asked him to make but the controversy that has arisen over these calls only illustrates that there is much misunderstanding and confusion about the laws that apply to the presidency and to the White House in connection with political activity. The laws pertaining to political activity explicitly recognize the presidency as the unique institution it is. Based on these unique realities and the practices and precedents of former White Houses, sophisticated counsel and other experts generally agree on the following propositions with respect to the presidency and political activity.
A president may entertain and meet with friends and political supporters, contributors, fund-raisers, and otherwise, as well as with members of Congress and heads of state in the White House. He may have coffee, or even tea with his friends and political supporters. And it is perfectly permissible for them to stay overnight.
A president and a vice president and certainly senators and members of Congress may--indeed, it is a custom of longstanding that they do--meet with supporters, including contributors and fund-raisers, as well as ordinary citizens, be gracious to them, discuss matters of public policy with them, and, yes, listen to their concerns. It simply is not illegal or untoward for a President or vice president to grant access to supporters.
KWAME HOLMAN: At mid-afternoon of what he called a long day Chairman Thompson decided to postpone the questioning of Ickes until tomorrow morning.