CIA Memos Detail DNC Chief ActionsBy Larry Margasak
Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, September 9, 1997; 4:10 p.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) Confronted with memos indicating he twice contacted the CIA on behalf of a fugitive businessman, former Democratic chairman Donald L. Fowler insisted Tuesday he had no memory of making such calls for the man, a major party donor.
Later, Democrats produced a statement from the CIA official -- identified only as "Bob" saying he had been operating under cover and Fowler may not have known he was with the spy agency.
Fowler appeared before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, knowing he would be grilled by Republicans about Democratic fund-raising abuses during last year's presidential campaign.
The Republicans questioned him closely about his intervention with officials on behalf of a number of Democratic donors -- including Indian tribes opposing a rival tribe's casino but saved their major attack for the help given businessman Roger Tamraz. He is a fugitive from a decade-old embezzlement charge in Lebanon who nonetheless was a frequent White House visitor in 1995 and 1996.
Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., the committee chairman, showed Fowler two 1995 CIA memos describing calls from Fowler on behalf of Tamraz, who wanted help in stifling opposition to a pipeline project in the Middle East. Fowler had testified he couldn't recall contacting the CIA and told Thompson just before the documents were introduced: "If somebody has some proof I would be happy to refresh my memory."
After he was shown the first CIA document, Fowler said "I understand the implications ... but it does not refresh my memory."
"If I said to you I recall making those calls, I would be perjuring myself because I simply don't," Fowler later told Sen. Thad Cochran,
Later, the Democrats produced the Senate deposition of the CIA official who said he didn't know whether Fowler knew he was talking to a spy agency employee.
At Tamraz's suggestion, the official said, he called Fowler, who returned his messages. "I was under ... cover," said the official, identified only as Bob. "I can't say for certain he knew who he was talking to because CIA was never mentioned."
Fowler also said he did not recall receiving a memo from one of his own aides written months before the CIA documents warning that Tamraz's background was "full of significant financial and ethical troubles." Tamraz has denied the embezzlement charge.
While Democratic committee members did not defend their party's contacts with Tamraz, they were able to show the GOP also was interested in Tamraz as late as last February.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. both invited Tamraz, in form letters sent to potential donors, to join an elite group for Republican contributors called the Inner Circle. McConnell is chairman of the Senate Republican campaign organization.
McConnell's 1997 letter promised Tamraz access to Lott, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other party luminaries.
Fowler, who said the White House made the major Democratic fund-raising decisions during the last campaign, defended the numerous contacts he made on behalf of donors.
"It is fully appropriate for the head of a national political party to secure a meeting for a supporter with an administration official or even to advocate a worthy cause," Fowler said.
"Members of Congress do this; staff members of Congress do it; it is their responsibility to do so," Fowler said.
Fowler also denied any wrongdoing in contacting the Interior Department on behalf of Minnesota Indian tribes who opposed a Wisconsin casino. Wisconsin tribes sought the casino, but lost their case. The Minnesota tribes were Democratic contributors.
In the Tamraz case, a CIA memorandum dated Oct. 20, 1995, by an official whose name was kept anonymous, said that on the previous day, "Don Fowler called me at the behest of Roger Tamraz."
"Fowler said he was attempting to arrange a meeting between the vice president and Tamraz concerning Tamraz's oil pipeline from Ceyhan, Turkey, to Baku, Azerbaijan, but was aware that there is opposition in the White House and from oil companies to Tamraz's involvement."
Democrats pointed out the memo said Tamraz did not refer to the author's CIA affiliation, leaving the suggestion that Fowler didn't know the official worked for the intelligence agency.
However, Fowler's handwritten notes from a conversation with Tamraz on Oct. 6, 1995, indicate that the businessman told the party chief to "go to CIA Bob" (last name blacked out). Tamraz, who had extensive business dealings in the Middle East, has told the committee he had been in contact with the CIA for three decades.
According to contribution records, Tamraz contributed at least $300,000 to the Democratic National Committee or state Democratic campaigns during the 1996 election cycle. Republicans pointed out the first Fowler call to the CIA came a day after Tamraz donated $75,000 to Virginia Democrats.
© Copyright 1997 The Associated Press