Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 18, 1997; Page A01
A former National Security Council aide recounted in dramatic detail yesterday repeated attempts by officials of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Energy Department and the Democratic National Committee to pressure her into approving access to President Clinton and other senior White House officials for an international businessman and major Democratic Party donor.
The tale of backstage intrigue and high-pressure tactics was told to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee by Sheila Heslin, who until last November was the NSC's staff expert on energy issues in Central Asia.
Heslin said the campaign of pressure, which she withstood for almost a year, was waged on behalf of Roger Tamraz, a wealthy investor who was promoting a plan to build an oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea region of Central Asia to Western markets. Tamraz gave at least $300,000 to Democratic campaign committees and candidates during the 1996 election cycle.
Heslin told the committee that a Tamraz ally at the CIA, identified only as "Bob of the CIA," provided her with misleading information about Tamraz and "lobbied" her on his behalf, and that a senior Energy Department official bluntly told her that Tamraz would contribute $400,000 to the DNC in return for a formal meeting with the president. CIA Director George J. Tenet has ordered an investigation of the matter.
According to Heslin, John Carter, who has since left the Energy Department, called her in early April 1996, and told her that Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty, senior counselor to Clinton, was interested in Tamraz's pipeline project and wanted him to meet with Clinton. Carter also said Tamraz had already given $200,000 to the DNC and would donate another $400,000 to the party if a meeting was arranged, she said.
"He was pressuring me," Heslin said. "I'd never had a conversation with Jack like that before or since. He is a gentleman, and he wasn't very gentlemanly during that talk. He said that Mack was also representing this because the president wanted him to do this."
When she warned Carter that she would go to senior NSC officials to block a Tamraz meeting with Clinton, "he told me I shouldn't be such a Girl Scout," Heslin said. "He was really unpleasant. It was a tough conversation."
In a written statement to the committee, McLarty denied ever speaking to Carter about Tamraz or telling Heslin that Clinton directed him to support the pipeline project. His account was supported by a written statement from Charles Kyle Simpson, an Energy Department official who was asked by McLarty to provide more information about the pipeline project.
Simpson said McLarty was seeking to learn "whether there was anything the White House needed to do about [the pipeline] proposal," but did not mention political contributions by Tamraz.
Carter, whose testimony before the committee was postponed at least until today, has given committee investigators a different version of his conversation with Heslin. According to Pamela Marple, a Democratic committee lawyer, Carter denied in a deposition that he pressured Heslin, that he linked donations to the DNC to a meeting with Clinton or that he called Heslin a "Girl Scout."
Heslin's handwritten notes about her conversation with Carter, released by the committee, have the words "Roger Tamraz-DNC" followed by the figures "$400,000-$200,000" and the phrase "Pres want." Heslin also jotted down and underlined McLarty's name in the notes.
Committee members appeared transfixed by Heslin's testimony and later heaped praise on her. "I think you are a real hero," Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told her.
Committee Democrats emphasized that U.S. policy in Central Asia was not affected by the maneuverings of Tamraz and his allies, but Republicans countered that he succeeded in his objective of "buying access" to the White House.
According to White House records released by the committee, Tamraz attended six social functions at the White House with Clinton in 1995 and 1996. "What always eluded Roger Tamraz," Heslin said, "was a formal meeting with the president, not just a social event."
Heslin said U.S. policy supported multiple energy pipelines in Central Asia to spur economic development in the oil-rich region, but that Tamraz was interested only in obtaining "exclusive rights" over transportation routes that he hoped to sell for $125 million.
Among the most mysterious figures to emerge from yesterday's hearing and earlier testimony is "Bob of the CIA," whom Heslin described as a mid- to senior-level official in the agency's directorate of operations.
She said information she received on Tamraz from the CIA's intelligence directorate was complete and accurate, but reports on him from the operations directorate were less so. Heslin met with Tamraz in June, 1995. The meeting was arranged by a retired CIA operations officer who had gone to work for Tamraz. Over the next four months, Heslin received four calls from "Bob of the CIA" that she said "can only be characterized as lobbying on behalf of Roger Tamraz." Another CIA operations officer who later went to work for Tamraz was involved in some of the calls.
Because of NSC objections, Tamraz was denied participation at a breakfast meeting with Vice President Gore in October 1995. It was then that Tamraz turned for help to then-DNC Chairman Donald L. Fowler, who, at Tamraz's suggestion, contacted "Bob of the CIA," according to the still anonymous CIA official. Fowler has said he has no recollection of such a contact.
Heslin said Fowler called her twice in December 1995, telling her she would soon receive a report from "Bob" that would allay her concerns about Tamraz. "I tell you I was shocked" by the Fowler calls, Heslin said, adding that the subsequent report from "Bob" was "irrelevant."
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