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Reno Decides to Expand Investigation of Gore (Oct. 4)

House Republicans' Call For Independent Counsel Rejected (Oct. 4)

Vice President Is Thrust Into Unfamiliar Role (Oct. 4)

Ickes Denies Arranging 'Hard Money' Campaign Calls

By Guy Gugliotta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 4 1997; Page A07

Former White House aide Harold Ickes has told Senate investigators he played no role in arranging for President Clinton and Vice President Gore to make telephone calls from the White House to solicit political contributions that were funneled directly into their reelection campaign.

In a Sept. 22 deposition taken by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Ickes said he was not "fooling around with that stuff," when asked whether he knew that the Democratic National Committee was putting up to $20,000 of the large donor contributions into reelection accounts. The Washington Post obtained a transcript of the deposition.

Attorney General Janet Reno has opened a preliminary investigation into allegations that Gore violated federal law in his fund-raising telephone calls from the White House – a probe that could lead to the appointment of an independent counsel. A Justice Department inquiry into Clinton's calls is at an earlier stage.

Ickes, a former White House deputy chief of staff and a key figure in Clinton's fund-raising strategy in 1995 and 1996, is scheduled to appear before the committee Tuesday to answer questions about the telephone calls and about his role in helping facilitate contacts between potential campaign donors and administration officials.

Investigators had deposed him for two days in June, but brought him back in September after witnesses in the committee's hearings repeatedly identified him as the go-between in the DNC's efforts to get Clinton and Gore to make telephone calls to large donors with the ability to give more than $100,000.

The investigations of Gore and Clinton turn on a 19th century law forbidding election fund-raising from federal buildings. The Clinton administration maintains that the law was designed to prevent shakedowns of federal employees by their bosses, and that neither Clinton nor Gore knew that the money they were requesting was going into their campaign coffers.

Instead, witnesses before the committee have testified, Clinton and Gore thought they were raising unregulated "soft money" destined for use by the Democratic Party for issue advocacy and party building activities not directly tied to the reelection campaign. Such money is not covered under the old law.

But DNC General Counsel Joseph E. Sandler told the committee that the DNC had a policy of putting the first $20,000 received from large donors – including many of those called by the president and vice president – into a campaign "hard money" account subject to federal regulation. Several of these donors have told The Washington Post they did not know their money was going into a regulated account.

The DNC policy was described in specific terms in at least two memos from Ickes to Clinton and Gore in mid-1996. Ickes did not deny writing the memos, but said in his Sept. 22 deposition he "was probably parroting" the words of a DNC official who was sending him a "reminder" that individuals could contribute up to $20,000 in hard money to the party each year.

Typically, he told investigators, fund-raisers asking for contributions in excess of $20,000 "are thinking soft money." In his memos, Ickes said, "I wanted to alert the President and Vice President" about the limits. He wasn't concerned "with the niceties of whether you had to check with somebody to get hard money and soft money."

He told investigators he worked on the assumption that money from a large donor could not be put into a hard money account without the donor's knowledge and permission: "I was fascinated by listening to Mr. Sandler the other day," Ickes said in his deposition, "because I did not know that that was the system they were using."

Staff writer John F. Harris contributed to this report from Washington.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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