Pursuit of Presidential Access Was Also Pursuit of American DreamBy Guy Gugliotta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 19, 1997; Page A07
In a hearing room full of lawyers, Roger Tamraz didn't have one. In a hearing room where pinched-faced witnesses were pointing fingers at one another, Tamraz was at ease. In a hearing room where U.S. senators were hunting for liars, Tamraz appeared to be telling the truth.
Tamraz's story, for which he made not the slightest apology, was one of masterful manipulation of a half-dozen federal agencies, a basketful of federal officials and the Democratic National Committee all so he could have a chance to tell President Clinton about his plan to build an oil pipeline in Central Asia.
In listening to Tamraz yesterday, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee was examining both sides of the American Dream, and not altogether liking what it saw, for Tamraz, a Lebanese-born U.S. citizen naturalized in 1989, was equal parts flag-waving idealist and unabashed hustler.
In his opening statement, Tamraz spoke of his happiness at having "the opportunity to tell my story to such a distinguished body of Americans." The "U.S. Senate rises like a lighthouse beacon" where he could join with others "who share my love of democracy," Tamraz said.
He had a dream, he told Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.). Yes, he wanted access to President Clinton so he could tell him about the pipeline, but he also wanted to make a mark in foreign policy.
If foreign-born heavyweights Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright could make it to the top, why not Roger Tamraz? "In America, nothing is impossible," he told Lieberman.
And quite frankly, Tamraz said, he was willing to pay. After all, he explained, "a lot of our Cabinet ministers and a lot of our ambassadors" get their jobs by kicking in big bucks to the winning presidential candidate.
So he hustled for months, gave Democratic committees and campaigns $300,000, saw a bunch of bureaucrats, got into the White House a few times and told Clinton about his pipeline proposal over dinner.
"If they kick me away from the door, I come through the window," Tamraz told the panel.
What the committee couldn't do, despite hours quizzing Tamraz, Energy Department official Charles Kyle Simpson and Simpson's former colleague, John Carter, was figure out how Tamraz succeeded when the National Security Council and the vice president's office had turned him away as a smooth-talking opportunist.
Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) accused Simpson of lying, and Sen. Robert C. Smith (R-N.H.) did the same for Carter. Others receiving barbs included former DNC chairman Donald L. Fowler, White House aide Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty, and an unnamed intelligence agent known only as "Bob of the CIA."
Outside the hearing room, the DNC had provided a lawyer to stick up for Fowler, and White House attorney Lanny J. Davis made sure reporters knew McLarty was blameless: "If there is any ambiguity in this, it would be unfair."
Even a "counsel for Bob" presented a "statement of Bob," which, in the text, proved to be a statement "on behalf of Bob," who was being "misrepresented" because most of "the documents supporting his position . . . are classified."
Meanwhile, Tamraz, 57, a short, pleasant-faced man in a loose-fitting suit, stood around during the breaks with his hands in his pockets, chatting with anyone who engaged him in conversation. No, he said, he didn't have an attorney with him, hadn't used one during his deposition, and hadn't ever used one during the campaign finance investigation.
"I haven't done anything wrong," he said.
Indeed, the only crime or impropriety laid at his door was that he had given "Bob of the CIA's" classified last name to Fowler, who had no need to know it.
Thin gruel, considering the trouble he had caused. "You game this system," thundered Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). "You put enough money in the slot, you get a response from the political party in power. I think that is distasteful, at the minimum, and unseemly."
But that, too, Tamraz said, was part of the American Dream. "Thank God we are a capitalist society, and there's nothing wrong in running after money."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company