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Pakistan Lobbyist's Memo Alleges Shakedown by House Probe Leader

By Charles R. Babcock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 19 1997; Page A01

An American lobbyist for the government of Pakistan complained to his client last summer that he had been "shaken down" for campaign contributions by Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), who now is heading a House probe of alleged Democratic campaign fund-raising abuses.

Mark A. Siegel, then a lobbyist for the government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, said he was approached by Burton early last year to raise "at least $5,000" for Burton's reelection campaign. When he was unable to do so, Siegel said, the congressman complained to the ambassador for the Bhutto government here and later threatened to make sure "none of his friends or colleagues" would meet with Siegel or his associates.

"I should tell you," Siegel wrote on July 25, in a two-page memo to a Bhutto aide in Islamabad, "that I worked in Washington for over 25 years and have never been shaken down by anyone before like Dan Burton's threats. No one has ever dared to threaten me into contributing money, and no one has ever followed through on such threats by contacting one of my clients.

"Despite what you may see in the movies," Siegel wrote, "this isn't the way most U.S. politicians conduct themselves."

The memo was made available to The Washington Post by a Democratic source in Congress. Siegel, a longtime Democratic activist, confirmed its authenticity in an interview yesterday.

Burton declined to be interviewed yesterday.

Kevin Binger, a top aide, said the congressman asked Siegel in early 1995 if he could raise $5,000 in campaign funds from Pakistani Americans and confirmed that Burton had mentioned Siegel's failure to do so to the Pakistani ambassador last year. But Binger said the memo "is full of egregious exaggerations and untruths," and he took issue with most of the quotes attributed to Burton.

The disclosure of Burton's complaints last year to Siegel and the Pakistani ambassador comes at an awkward time, as the congressman is taking the spotlight as chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, which is investigating alleged fund-raising abuses in last year's election campaigns.

Siegel's unusual memo was written in response to a faxed message from a top Bhutto aide, Zafar Hilaly, earlier that same day. Hilaly wrote that "we were distressed to know from the embassy that Congressman Dan Burton says that you were unable to keep certain promises regarding fundraising for his reelection campaign and that you were also very unhelpful in other matters. So much so that you are no longer `persona grata' in his office. This is most upsetting as he is good friend of Pakistan."

Rifaat Hussain, minister of information at the Pakistani Embassy here, said yesterday that senior officials at the embassy had no knowledge of the communications between Hilaly and Siegel and no record of Burton contacting the embassy about campaign donations. After Bhutto was removed from office late last year, following a corruption scandal, the ambassador involved, Maleeha Lodhi, returned to Pakistan.

Burton is a longtime member of the House International Relations Committee who co-chairs an informal caucus on U.S.-Pakistani relations. The congressman has regularly backed causes of importance to Pakistan and is a longtime recipient of campaign donations from the Sikh community. He was a key supporter of a bill that would have blocked $25 million in U.S. aid to India because of its refusal to allow human rights investigations of alleged atrocities in Punjab state, where Sikh separatists seeking a homeland they call Khalistan have battled New Delhi's security forces. Two years ago, Burton also backed an effort to lift a long-standing ban on aid to Pakistan that cleared the way for delivery of $368 million worth of U.S. missiles and other military equipment for which it already had paid.

According to Siegel's memo, in conversations last year about fund-raising efforts, Burton said that he was "owed support" and that "he had been there for Pakistan and he expected me to be there for him."

Siegel, who represented the Bhutto government in Washington for several years until her government fell, was paid $452,941 for his services for the year ending July 1995, according to his filing at the Justice Department as a registered foreign agent. A longtime Democrat, Siegel was executive director of the Democratic National Committee in the 1970s and served as a political aide in the Carter White House.

According to the memo, Siegel told Burton he "would do [his] best to try to identify Republican Pakistani-Americans who might contribute to his campaign." But it soon became clear, the memo continues, "that it was impossible to raise the funds he was asking for without the congressman's attendance at an event. When I informed him of this, he said he wouldn't attend an event for less than $10,000, and added that if I `were smart' I'd put together that much or more for him."

Siegel said he tried to organize a fund-raising event for Burton on July 15, but the plans fell through. "When I informed Congressman Burton of this he became extremely agitated and in fact abusive," Siegel's memo states. "He said if `I knew what was good for me' I'd deliver the money."

Burton contacted Lodhi directly last year, according to Siegel, to voice his complaints about the lobbyist's failure to raise money for his reelection campaign. The congressman told the ambassador, according to Siegel's memo, "that I wouldn't support his campaign . . . and she twice warned me that he was `really hot' and going after me."

Burton, through his aide, denied making any of the threats quoted in the Siegel memo or that he had "shaken down" the lobbyist. The congressman did tell Siegel, his aide said, that "if you make a commitment you should keep it."

Siegel said in an interview yesterday that he was surprised that Burton solicited him because of his background in Democratic politics. "I don't usually get fund-raising solicitations from Republican members of Congress," he said.

Asked if he would have written a similar memo about a Democratic member of Congress, Siegel said, "Yes, and I would have said, `Cool it.' "

Burton called several times early last year to check on his fund-raising efforts in the Pakistani American community, Siegel recalled in the interview, adding that "it got rough and tumble" after he told the congressman he couldn't raise the money.

Kevin Sailer, an associate of Siegel's, confirmed last night that Burton told him – as the Pakistani aide's message suggests – that Siegel was "persona non gratis" in the congressman's office and that "none of his friends or colleagues" would meet with Siegel or his aides. "It was an unfortunate and extraordinary circumstance," Sailer said of the confrontation with Burton.

Binger, the Burton aide, took exception yesterday to the timing of the disclosure of the congressman's conversations with Siegel and the Pakistani ambassador. "I really think this demonstrates how far people on the other side are willing to go to call into question Dan Burton's integrity because he is the chairman of the committee doing this investigation," Binger said. "It's probably not a coincidence that this came to you a couple of days before our budget is voted on."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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