White House: Herman Never Saw Final Coffee Guest List
By Peter Baker
The White House released internal documents yesterday intended to prove that Labor Secretary-designate Alexis M. Herman was not responsible for an improper meeting sponsored by Democratic fund-raisers that brought together prominent bankers and a senior banking regulator.
As director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, Herman's involvement in a May 13 coffee has become a significant issue in her bid to win confirmation to the Cabinet. It was her office that invited Comptroller of the Currency Eugene A. Ludwig, a move that Ludwig and President Clinton now say inappropriately mixed politics and business.
The delivery of the memos to the Senate yesterday is part of an effort to persuade Republican leaders that Herman had no direct role in Ludwig's invitation and was unaware until a few days before the coffee that it was arranged at the behest of the Democratic National Committee.
"What these documents confirm is that the only list of attendees that Ms. Herman saw prior to the event mentioned neither DNC officials nor Mr. Ludwig," White House staff secretary Todd D. Stern wrote in a three-page cover letter.
The documents could prove important to Herman's confirmation chances. After meeting with her last week, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) seemed somewhat mollified by her explanation and said that if Herman could document it, "then I assume that she would be" confirmed.
Lott and Sen. James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.), chairman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, declined to comment after receiving the memos yesterday.
The documents include several drafts of the invitation list as it was compiled by Herman's assistant, Kate Smith Carr, a former finance director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The first two, on April 2 and May 6, included the names of the banking executives, but no administration or party officials. Two other memos, dated May 10 and 13, listed Ludwig along with the DNC's then-national chairman, Donald L. Fowler, and finance vice chairman, Marvin Rosen.
According to Stern, Herman never saw the May 10 and 13 memos that listed all the guests. The May 10 memo was prepared the day after she left town on business, but over the weekend before the Monday morning coffee, Stern said, Herman learned from Carr that Fowler and Rosen were to attend.
At that point, she concluded it was a political event and decided not to attend. White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said he could not say whether she knew Ludwig was also coming and, if so, why she did not warn him.
Although the White House hopes these documents ameliorate concerns about Herman, they will also provide at least symbolic fodder for critics who charge that the administration routinely mingles politics and governing. On the lists where Fowler and Rosen were cited, the two party leaders were included in a section titled, "Administration Participants."
"That was a mistake on Kate's part," Lockhart said.
The documents sent to senators included a description of a memo prepared by Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin and then-economic adviser Laura D'Andrea Tyson to brief Clinton on possible topics for the coffee, including regulatory relief and bank insurance. The memo also catalogued "Administration banking accomplishments." However, the White House did not release it because, Stern said, it "involves substantive advice given to the president by his advisors."
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