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Indonesian Couple Break Silence on DNC Donations (Oct. 27)

Clinton Declines to Testify in Finance Probe

By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 27, 1997; Page A07

President Clinton has declined an unusual invitation to testify before the Senate committee investigating alleged campaign finance abuses, a decision that Chairman Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.) said he will reluctantly abide.

Speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation" yesterday, Thompson said he was "disappointed" by Clinton's refusal to testify but added that he has no plans to subpoena the president or otherwise try to pressure him into appearing before the committee.

"We are not going to press the issue," Thompson said. "I think that if he declines, that's his decision to make. I wish he would not do that, but since he's taken that position we're going to leave it at that."

Thompson wrote a letter to Clinton last week inviting him to testify along with former senator Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), Clinton's 1996 presidential campaign foe, about alleged campaign fund-raising abuses in their respective campaigns.

The invitation was sent after Dole wrote the Senate committee volunteering to testify so he could rebut statements suggesting that his campaign had purposely circumvented campaign finance laws.

"Quite frankly, the invitation to the president was generated by Senator Dole's letter," Thompson said. "Senator Dole says, `A lot of comparisons have been made between my campaign and the president's, and I want to come down and talk about it.' "

Clinton, however, refused the invitation, pointing out that it is highly unusual for a sitting president to appear before a congressional panel.

"We do not believe that it would be appropriate for the president to appear before the committee," White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff wrote in a letter faxed to Thompson on Friday.

Thompson acknowledged that it would be highly unusual for a president to accept such an invitation. He said that he knows of "maybe three times" in history when presidents have testified before congressional committees. Those occurred under "extraordinary circumstances," Thompson said, adding, "I think these are extraordinary circumstances."

Thompson has come under fire from those who think his committee's eight-month probe into alleged campaign fund-raising abuses has not lived up to its early billing. When the hearings opened in April, Thompson alleged that the Chinese government had hatched a conspiracy to influence U.S. elections with campaign money.

Thompson said yesterday he still stands by that statement, adding that it is impossible to share much of what is known about the alleged plan because it is the subject of a Justice Department probe or is classified information gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies.

"This was not an accusation on my part," Thompson said. "This was a revelation on my part."

Thompson yesterday also accused the White House of establishing a deliberate pattern of "foot-dragging" and "slow walking" that has led to his committee receiving critical evidence for its investigation long after it had been requested.

For example, he said, his committee did not receive White House videotapes of coffees hosted by Clinton for Democratic donors until many months after the committee's request. He said the same has occurred with other documents. White House officials say the delays have been inadvertent, the result of clerical or administrative errors.

"People involved in sophisticated litigation know all these tricks," Thompson said. "These are sophisticated lawyers. You don't shred documents. You don't violate the criminal law or anything like that."

Instead, Thompson alleged, White House lawyers want to "slow things down," hoping to "run out the clock" on his hearings, which are scheduled to conclude in December.

"There are ways that you can refuse to pass requests on down the line. There are ways when you pass the request down the line . . . mistakes are made, that sort of thing," Thompson said.

"Federal judges deal with this all the time. The only difference is Washington, D.C., is the only place you can get away with it."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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