By Amy Argetsinger
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 26, 2005
LOS ANGELES, May 25 -- A federal jury is scheduled to begin deliberating Thursday morning in the trial of a top campaign aide to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) accused of concealing the true costs of a lavish celebrity fundraising gala in 2000.
In closing arguments here Wednesday, prosecutors said the case -- involving more than $800,000 in the hosts' expenses that were not recorded in filings to the Federal Election Commission -- centers on the public's "right to know" about the attempts by wealthy donors to angle for political access and influence.
They noted that one of the gala's sponsors -- an entrepreneur then trying to raise the profile of his Internet start-up -- lent defendant David F. Rosen, 38, his Porsche and paid for Rosen's stay at the expensive Beverly Hills Hotel and later pressed him to arrange meetings at the White House.
But an attorney for Rosen said the fundraiser was misled by the organizers about the soaring costs of the event and had no intent "to cheat or deceive" when he submitted budget statements with incorrect numbers.
"He was going on his best knowledge of what was accurate," said attorney Paul Mark Sandler.
Rosen, a Chicago-based consultant who recently worked on the short-lived presidential campaign of retired Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark, served as the former first lady's national finance director during her Senate race. He was charged with three counts of lying on financial statements to the FEC, though U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz this week threw out one of those charges, saying the Justice Department had not provided evidence that Rosen had prepared that particular report. If convicted, Rosen faces five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for each count.
The case has been closely watched by Clinton's critics, especially amid widespread speculation about her potential aspirations for a 2008 presidential run. But from the start of the trial, federal prosecutors have made it clear that they do not believe the senator was involved. They even suggested in their arguments Wednesday that Rosen may have taken the steps he did because he feared the rising costs of the event would cost him his job. "Wasting money was never acceptable in Hillary Clinton's campaign," prosecutor Daniel Schwager said.
Rosen testified this week that he had no idea the star-studded dinner and concert at a sprawling Brentwood estate cost organizers nearly $1.1 million, as opposed to the about $400,000 he reported to the FEC. Such "in kind" donations matter in filings because they weigh against the amount a campaign can spend in unrestricted funds on advocacy ads and direct appeals to voters.
Prosecutors, though, cited testimony by witnesses who recalled Rosen's involvement in meetings at which the hosts complained about the rising costs associated with elaborate gift bags, the construction of a performance stage, and entertainers demanding to have their travel arranged. "David Rosen was the driving force in this budget-creation process," Schwager said.
But Sandler questioned the veracity of two key witnesses against Rosen -- one of whom agreed to testify as part of his own plea agreement -- and asked why the government did not call the gala's organizers to testify. One of them, Peter Paul, has been convicted of defrauding investors, while the other, Aaron Tonken, is in prison for defrauding charities.
Sandler also argued there was no proof that Rosen knew or was ever told the true costs of the event, and none that he knowingly prepared a false invoice. "What evidence is there he would benefit from this?" he added.