Herman Denies Allegations Of Influence-Selling Scheme
By George Lardner Jr. and Charles R. Babcock
Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman yesterday denied allegations that she accepted cash and consulting fees in a scheme to sell influence from her former position in the Clinton White House and said she would cooperate with a Justice Department probe of the matter.
"I know that, as a Cabinet official, the Justice Department is obligated to look into certain allegations that have been made against me. I accept that as a part of this job," Herman told reporters in a brief appearance outside the Labor Department yesterday. "I want you to know," she added, "that these allegations are not true."
President Clinton defended Herman as the two headed to New York City for a forum on promoting racial diversity on Wall Street. Asked whether Herman could have taken money for offering access to the White House, the president said, "I don't believe that for a minute."
The Justice Department officials confirmed Wednesday they are conducting a preliminary inquiry on whether to seek an independent counsel probe into the allegations. Laurent Yene, an African businessman who has been bitterly feuding with Vanessa Weaver, Herman's former business partner and longtime friend, made the claims that set the inquiry in motion. The inquiry is to be completed next month.
Yene first leveled accusations against Herman last year when the then-head of the White House Office of Public Liaison was awaiting Senate confirmation to her Cabinet job; now he has added the assertion that she received fees, including an envelope containing cash he said he delivered to her at her home.
Lawyers for Weaver have said Yene tried to extort $250,000 from her last spring, threatening to ruin Herman's nomination chances if Weaver failed to pay.
One of Weaver's attorneys, E. Lawrence Barcella, described Yene as Weaver's "embittered former boyfriend." Weaver set Yene up in business, Barcella said, only to have him spend company money on himself and other women, then expose the firm to a lawsuit by a woman who alleged Yene sexually harassed her.
"She found him to be personally unfaithful and professionally dishonest. Yene made vows to get back at her and this is how he's doing it," Barcella said. Weaver sued Yene last summer contending that he misappropriated money for their company for his personal use.
Yene could not be reached for comment.
Yene's allegations raise questions anew about access to the White House that Herman obtained for Weaver, Yene and some of the clients and prospective clients of their consulting firm. Weaver bought Herman's management consulting firm for $88,000 when Herman joined the White House in the fall of 1993. Weaver visited the White House 29 times over the next three years, according to White House officials.
While the White House asserted yesterday that Yene's claims had been examined and disposed of by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee during Herman's 1997 confirmation hearing, Senate staff members said they never interviewed Yene and were unaware of these allegations. They said they looked only into Herman's sale of her company and Weaver's access to the White House.
The Herman inquiry is being handled by the Justice Department's campaign finance task force, officials said. When Yene approached the Justice Department with the allegations late last year, the department was already scrutinizing Herman's activities in the White House Office of Public Liaison because of her role in helping set up White House coffees and other fund-raising events.
Bank records and other documents offered by Yene gave his allegations enough credibility to merit an inquiry, according to sources familiar with the probe. Yene's failure to mention payments to Herman when he leveled charges at her in the news media last spring has not been an issue for investigators, who sources said that at this point are looking to see if there is information to corroborate his story, not assessing his overall credibility as a potential witness.
Under the independent counsel law, the attorney general is required to look into any specific and credible information that a Cabinet official may have committed a crime. The preliminary investigation by Justice is designed only to determine whether there is enough information to warrant appointment of an independent counsel to probe the matter further.
When Yene made his accusations Wednesday against Herman on ABC's "World News Tonight," he showed a copy of a $10,000 check made out to Alignment Strategies Inc., which is another firm owned by Weaver. Weaver attorney Jeffrey Fried said the check was partial payment of a $100,000 loan Alignment Strategies made to International Investments and Business Developments Inc., the Weaver-Yene firm.
In the fall of 1996, Weaver and her sister donated $50,000 to the Democratic National Committee. In addition, Abdul Rahman, a businessman from Singapore who intended to market a satellite telephone system, accompanied Weaver to a fund-raising event with Clinton in suburban Virginia. About the same time, Weaver and Yene ended their personal and business relationship, according to Weaver associates and court documents.
Staff writers Susan Schmidt and Roberto Suro contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company