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Barbour Meets the Committee Head-OnBy Guy Gugliotta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 25, 1997; Page A06
He arrived with a phalanx of lawyers, an easel full of charts and spin doctors who passed out his excerpted remarks, but former Republican Party chairman Haley Barbour needed little help.
As the first celebrity witness in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's investigation of campaign wrongdoing, Barbour risked a skewering from Democrats intent on showing that he used the nonprofit National Policy Forum to funnel illegal foreign contributions to the Republican Party.
But in hours of testimony yesterday, Barbour marshaled careful, chart-aided arguments to rebut every charge, suggested areas where senators might do more homework and showed such prodigious command of previous testimony that the nine lawyers and other minions who accompanied him had little to do but watch.
"To be candid, and since I'm under oath to tell you the truth," he said, "I have to tell you I don't appreciate the way some people have decided their interests are served by attempting to run down the Republicans and by trying to smear me."
Yes, he had founded the National Policy Forum with seed money from the Republican National Committee, and, yes, he had served as the chairman of both organizations, but they were never the same.
The NPF, he said, was "a like-minded organization" not an RNC "arm," not an "affiliate," not a "funnel."
And when it was pointed out that his nephew had once described NPF as an RNC "issue subsidiary," Barbour smiled wryly. His nephew had "screwed . . . up," he said.
And Barbour insisted he never knew until this year that $1.6 million offered in October 1994 as collateral for a loan to the NPF had originated overseas at the Hong Kong headquarters of Young Brothers Development.
"I may not have heard it" when colleagues mentioned it, Barbour said. And, anyway, as a nonprofit organization, the NPF could accept foreign contributions, so "it was irrelevant was then, is now," he said.
And, yes, at a mid-1995 meeting in Hong Kong, Young Brothers founder Ambrous Young may have remarked that he had a local tax problem with the $1.5 million, but Barbour directed senators to examine Young's deposition. "He [Young] said I misunderstood him," Barbour said.
So he could only agree with Young. "If he did say that, I certainly didn't hear him or understand him," Barbour said.
And finally, the RNC didn't need the money, so Democrats were wrong when they contended that the NPF was used to launder foreign contributions destined for tough election campaigns he had a chart that said so.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) didn't agree with the chart, because it reflected a line of credit available to the RNC, not cash on hand. "This is hard to follow, and hard to understand," Durbin said.
"We could have written a check any time we needed," Barbour insisted.
As Barbour's testimony unfolded, rival spinners issued a steady stream of documents and propaganda in support of Republican and Democrat viewpoints, including one 10-page offering from Barbour spokesman Ed Gillespie, entitled "Excerpted Remarks of Haley Barbour."
When the spin slowed, however, it was Committee Chairman Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.) who, in one of the committee's rare nonpartisan moments, made Barbour squirm. Yes, the Young Brothers loan guarantee may have been legal, but it was foreign money and it looked "radioactive," Thompson said.
Furthermore, he said, the NPF defaulted on the loan, the bank called in the $1.5 million, and the RNC refused to reimburse Young Brothers for the full amount. "It looks like we [Republicans] owe him some money," Thompson said. "He's holding the bag," and "legalities aside, a deal is a deal."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company