No Memory of Calls to CIA, Ex-DNC Chief TestifiesBy Edward Walsh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 10, 1997; Page A01
Former Democratic National Committee chairman Donald L. Fowler testified repeatedly yesterday that he has no recollection of telephone calls that a Central Intelligence Agency official said he made on behalf of a Lebanese American businessman who he had been warned had a background "full of significant financial and ethical troubles."
During a full day of increasingly skeptical questioning by Republican members of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Fowler provided low-key answers almost in a monotone as he insisted that he had no memory of ever talking to a shadowy figure who was identified only as "Bob of the CIA."
Yesterday's hearing, part of the committee's investigation of campaign fund-raising improprieties during the 1996 election cycle, focused on Roger Tamraz, a major Democratic Party contributor who was seeking support from the Clinton administration for a plan to build a $2.5 billion pipeline to carry oil from the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia to Western markets.
Fowler, who now teaches political science at the University of South Carolina, was directly involved in some of the most controversial aspects of 1996 Democratic fund-raising practices and his testimony was eagerly anticipated. But by the end of the day, his assertions of lack of memory, particularly regarding calls to the CIA, led some GOP committee members to question his truthfulness.
Warning Fowler that he was testifying under oath, Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) said: "There are some things that make me wonder whether you're really being truthful with this committee. . . . Your selective 'I can't recall,' I think, does have us question your credibility."
"You may question my credibility if you wish," Fowler replied gravely. "It is not justified and it's inappropriate."
Fowler also was questioned about other Democratic fund-raising practices, including an event at a Buddhist temple in California that was attended by Vice President Gore and raised money for the Democrats. While the gathering had both political and fund-raising aspects, "a blended event, if you will," Fowler said, "It is my belief the vice president did not know about the fund-raising aspects of that event."
Fowler also denied there was any connection between contributions to the Democratic Party by Indian tribes in Minnesota and a decision by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to reject a proposal by a Wisconsin tribe to open a gambling casino near the Minnesota border. The Minnesota tribes, which have extensive and lucrative gambling interests, strongly opposed the Wisconsin plan.
But it was Tamraz, who contributed at least $300,000 to the DNC and state Democratic parties and candidates during the last election cycle, who was the focus of yesterday's hearing.
Tamraz was scheduled to attend a breakfast meeting with Gore on Oct. 5, 1995. But the invitation was withdrawn after the National Security Council told Gore's staff that Tamraz "has a history of making false claims" and that senior government officials should not meet with him.
The day after the breakfast, Tamraz met with Fowler, whose handwritten notes from the meeting include the notation "go to CIA" and the name of a CIA official. In the notes, edited by the committee before they were released, the CIA official's last name was blacked out, leaving him identified only as "Bob." Since reports of contacts with the CIA on behalf of Tamraz first surfaced earlier this year, Fowler said, "in the middle of the night, at high noon, at every hour of the day, I have searched my memory" for a recollection of such contacts.
"I have no memory of any conversations with the CIA," he added.
Asked by committee Chairman Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.) whether an October 1995 memo written by the mysterious "Bob" recounting a telephone conversation with Fowler "refreshes your recollection," Fowler replied, "Not in the least."
"Really?" Thompson said in a slightly sarcastic tone.
The committee yesterday made public two memos by "Bob of the CIA" recalling attempts by Fowler to assist Tamraz. According to the October memo, in the first conversation Fowler was seeking to overcome White House opposition to a meeting between Gore and Tamraz to discuss Tamraz's oil pipeline project. In a December 1995 memo, only two paragraphs of which were made public, "Bob" said Fowler had called the CIA "to ask if it could provide a letter on Tamraz to clear Tamraz's name with the president."
"Bob is either a dreamer or an inventor of words or he really had conversations with you," Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) told Fowler.
According to yesterday's testimony, warnings about Tamraz began even before his scheduled breakfast with Gore was scuttled by NSC objections. In a July 1995 memo from Alejandra Y. Castillo of the DNC staff, Fowler was told that while Tamraz's financial contributions would be welcome, "his past involvement in shaky international business and para-military organizations may generate considerable problems for the DNC."
"His business background has proved to be full of significant financial and ethical troubles," Castillo added. "Pay attention to these warning signals."
"I do not recall this memo," Fowler said.
Tamraz, who sources said has long had contacts with the CIA, has denied allegations of financial wrongdoing, attributing them to Lebanese political rivalries.
Committee Republicans also questioned Fowler about the relationship between the DNC and the Clinton White House, suggesting that especially on fund-raising matters the White House was in charge. Fowler acknowledged that he had frequent disagreements with Harold Ickes, then White House deputy chief of staff, saying that "on some points he ignored my objections."
"The bottom line is, sir, is that if Marvin Rosen and Richard Sullivan [of the DNC's finance division] wanted something to happen, or not to happen, they knew it was Mr. Ickes and not you who had authority," said Republican deputy committee counsel J. Mark Tipps.
"If there was a clear disagreement, I think that's accurate," Fowler replied.
Committee Democrats defended Fowler. Asked by Sen. John Glenn (Ohio), the committee's ranking Democrat, what "favored treatment" Tamraz received for his contributions, Fowler said, "None that I know of."
The Democrats also produced two fund-raising letters addressed to Tamraz earlier this year, after many of his controversial activities had been publicly reported. One was from Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and the other from Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), chairman of the GOP's Senate fund-raising committee.
Inviting Tamraz to become a member of the Republican Senatorial Inner Circle Committee, which is reserved for major contributors, McConnell told Tamraz, "Your personal accomplishments and your proven commitment to our party will make you a perfect Inner Circle member."
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