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'Mr. President . . . This Is Your Campaign'

Wednesday, October 8, 1997; Page A21


The following is excerpted from remarks by Chairman Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's yesterday:

I think as probably everyone knows now, this committee has, since April of this year, made inquiry as to whether or not there were visual and audio recordings pertaining to the White House, pertaining to the fund-raisers, specifically with regard to coffees.

We have been told consistently since that time that no such things existed. In July we were pretty well informed that that was not the case. In July we issued a subpoena that included any audio-visual recordings. We were told again that there were none. On [Aug. 19], counsel for this committee wrote counsel to the White House and specifically identified the White House Communications Agency as what we understood would be the repository of any such audio-visual recordings, and specifically asked again did they not exist. We were again told they did not. As late as September we were told that there were no tapes of White House coffees.

We were told that as far as the Communications Agency is concerned that they basically taped things . . . where the public media was there also, implying that there was very little taping that went on that was not already known to the media in general. And we were again told that there were no tapes of any activities in the Oval Office.

Now we know that there are . . . tapes of at least 44 coffees. We still understand that there is a running tally being kept. They are still apparently being identified. I've heard estimates of between 150 and 200 fund-raising tapes. We know now that there's at least one of the Oval Office. We know that there is at least one of the Roosevelt Room. We were told that White House counsel discovered this, I believe, last Thursday, even though it was becoming by then apparent to almost everyone in Washington, D.C., that these people followed the president around, as has been the practice in other administrations, and [have] taken footage of just about all of his activities. These are professional people. They are under the Department of Defense. They've been doing this job for a long time. They are the communications network responsible for keeping the president in communications. . . .

I am told that if the White House wants some footage of someone that the president met a month or so ago and makes a general description of it – it was on or about a certain date – and the person present was identified in general terms, within minutes, almost, these people can retrieve that particular footage and have it available for the president. This is the kind of operation that we understand at this early date that we are dealing with. But – and obviously the people who are in the footage knew that they were being taped, including the president – we would have to say everyone in the White House knew this.

It is well known that the Senate imposed a cutoff date on this committee. It's also been a very badly kept secret that people are now systematically thwarting our subpoenas, not responding to this committee, because they know that by the time we get through the contempt proceedings and into court our cutoff date will have arrived. That is a sad truth, but it must be acknowledged.

We at this preliminary stage have been able to put together a little footage of our own, based upon what the White House has sent us, that I think for present purposes will be somewhat illuminating. . . .

The White House – various White House and DNC witnesses who have appeared before this committee in the course of this investigation have insisted that the coffees held at the White House were not fund-raisers. . . .

But as there's been examined in some detail during prior hearings, this denial comes in the face of rather stark statistics concerning the amount and timing of DNC contributions by coffee attendees. The first excerpt from the videotape that I would like to show this morning sheds some light on this question. What you are about to see on the screen is a portion of the video footage shot by the White House during the Dec. 13, 1995, coffee. . . . What you will hear is a donor, who is yet unidentified, telling Don Fowler, the chairman of the DNC, that he has five checks for him. Don Fowler's response, about all of which I can make out at this point, mentions "the attorneys" and ends by saying that he'll call the donor to arrange to pick up the checks right after the coffee. Mr. Fowler apologizes, and then he promises him that the DNC will get it done. . . .

But [he says] don't give me the checks in the White House – we need to preserve the fiction that these coffees are not fund-raisers. . . .

[I]n the tape from the Dec. 15 coffee, the next clip, we will see the president greeting Mr. Arief Wiriadinata, who gained some fame as the gardener who, with his wife, contributed nearly a half a million dollars to the DNC. Our investigation has shown that the Wiriadinatas' contributions were funded by Dr. Hashem Neem, the former Lippo executive. . . . What you will hear . . . is that Mr. Wiriadinata tells the president that in effect James Riady sent Mr. Wiriadinata to that office, to the White House. He says, "James Riady sent me," and the president responds, "Yes, I'm glad to see you. Thank you for being here." . . .

"James Riady sent me" – I think that answers most of the questions we had as to the source of the Wiriadinatas' $225,000 contribution to the DNC.

The third clip I'd like to show this morning is from the April 1, 1996, coffee that was held in the White House. Our old friend Mr. Tamraz – there is no record as to whether or not he entered by the door or by a window – [laughter] – makes an appearance on this tape, and you'll hear the president greet him briefly. . . . [W]hat you will see is the president greeting Mr. Tamraz, and then you will hear, as the photographer is leaving the room, Mr. Don Fowler thank the attendees for coming and identifying them as a group of the DNC's, quote, "loyal and generous supporters." . . .

For the moment, one of the reasons that the late release of this tape by the White House has garnered such a great deal of attention is that the tape was released only hours after the attorney general had issued a letter discussing the legality of these coffees. This last clip is directly relevant to some of the issues discussed by the attorney general in her letter, because it shows that at least one of these coffee functions was held in the Oval Office and not in the residence portion of the White House. I have discussed this issue with the staff of this committee and have confirmed that the White House, in addition to their public statements, made representations that the May 1, 1996, coffee had been held in the Roosevelt Room. As this clip shows, however, these representations simply were false. . . .

Four of the five men that attended this coffee with the president in the Oval Office donated $100,000 each within one week of attending that coffee. . . .

Clearly a lot of questions arise. What else did the White House Communications Agency tape or record? What is on the 150 or 200 DNC fund-raising tapes being withheld from the committee, or being assembled by the White House for the committee at this time? . . . What kind of search was made by the White House in response to our April request, our subpoena, and our specific request in August? . . . How could White House personnel, including the president, and all of whom saw a camera in the room, not recall that they were being videotaped? . . .

But of course, the ultimate question here today is why, at this late date, after all of this controversy, after all this attention on these matters, after the specific, specific requests – and one must wonder about other requests that we have made that have not been complied with – why we're just now getting these tapes.

Ifeel like . . . it is clear that the White House is trying to run out the clock on this committee. There's a clear pattern of delay, foot-dragging, concealing, with regard to this committee. We are told by the same people who are here every day, not trying to help, not trying to find out the truth, not trying to get to the bottom of these serious allegations, but who are in charge of putting a spin on all these very, very troubling activities, even the criminal activities that we heard earlier in these hearings about, denigrating the work of this committee, saying that there's no significance to anything that we've heard, repeating over and over that everybody does it. These are the same people [who] now want to be trusted, who say that this time we were merely incompetent, our defense is that we were incompetent. That defense is wearing a little thin. . . .

This committee's been faced with witness after witness after witness – key witnesses – I'd say most of the key witnesses in this case have chosen to take the Fifth Amendment, which is their right to do. Many have fled the country, just like Mr. Wiriadinata. . . . Many are thwarting the subpoenas of this committee.

And yet in the midst of all of that, within a few months, it is clear now from the testimony that has come before this committee that there was an unprecedented and systematic effort to bring in illegal money into the Democratic National Committee, into the Clinton-Gore campaign, much of it foreign money, much of it by people who had free and ready access to the White House and we know [on] some occasions met with the president himself. . . . We've seen money laundering, we've seen contributions in the name of another, we've seen illegal foreign contributions, we've seen conspiracy.

And one would assume that you would have a very active Justice Department and a very active grand jury going on. . . . Time and time again, instead of the normal situation that you have in these congressional investigations, whether it be a Watergate or Iran-contra or whatever, you've got a very active grand jury that is causing people to come before the committees and wanting to say – and saying to the committee, in effect – consider immunity for us, we want to talk to this committee, we want to cooperate with this committee. There's no such inducement to do that before this committee, because no one is in fear of ever having anything done to them in terms of criminal prosecution.

So instead of that situation pertaining, as is the usual case, it seems that this committee continues to scare up leads for a Justice Department that is scrambling to catch up. . . .

Time and time again, we would find that we would be interviewing witnesses in this matter before the Justice Department did, according to the news accounts, they would see a list of the witnesses that we would have, and they would scramble to go and find these witnesses. I understand Mr. Ickes was interviewed for the first time a week ago on these hard money phone calls and the documents presented before this committee. We had those documents and that information some time ago. . . . We assumed the attorney general had the same information, had access to the same documents and access to the same witnesses that we did. But then we read in the paper that they got their information when it was pointed out in The Washington Post and had not even checked the public records with regard to these matters. . . .

In the meantime, people leave the country, documents are destroyed, defenses are gotten together on, and evidence gets cold.

I think what is happening here is becoming more and more apparent as far as the department is concerned. And that is, the focus is becoming narrower and narrower: long letters, defense lawyer justifications for everything, long letters of explanation, long letters of defense and picking out one thing, one area like these phone calls that everybody in this town knows will never be prosecuted, nobody's going to be prosecuted on these phone calls where someone was sitting or standing when phone calls were made, everybody knows that. . . .

There's a missing player in most of these discussions. Ironically, I think it's the president of the United States. This should not be about the attorney general. She should not continue to be placed in this position where her own reputation is in jeopardy. She's clearly in a box that she's having a difficult time getting out of. This should not be about the vice president. He should not be bearing the entire brunt of this mess that we've seen unfold over these last several months.

Mr. President, I would suggest this is your campaign. These were your supporters. These were your friends, many of them longtime friends. These were your people who worked in the White House. Much of this money that was raised, illegal money, was for your campaign and for your reelection. This is your White House. This is your Department of Justice. And these are your tapes. And you have a responsibility. I would call on you to encourage these people to come forward and testify. Get to the bottom of who's doing what over in your White House in terms of complying with these document requests.

Tell these foreign countries that we need these people located and encourage them to give us their assistance, to encourage those people to come before this committee. . . .

I would call on you to do as you've done before, and that is, call for an independent counsel yourself. You've done it before for much less serious matters, as presidents before you have done. Or at least not even necessarily under the independent [counsel] statute. Call for somebody to come in here independent to make some determination as to what the truth is in these matters.

It's clearly the strategy now to wait this committee out, discredit the Burton Committee and hope that the attorney general holds fast. Now, if, in fact, the president's involvement in this matter happens to be limited to certain exuberance or certain excesses or certain things that maybe everybody did, in fact, do, if that turns out to be the case, if that is the case, I think people understand that. We can deal with that. . . .

This committee has tried to be fair to you, Mr. President. I've tried to be fair to you. I've taken an awful lot of criticism because I've tried to be fair to you. I haven't done it just for you. I've done it because I thought the American people expected it of me. And now I think the American people expect you to step up to the plate and take responsibility, because surely nobody wants this to go down looking like a successful coverup of much more serious activities. No one who loves their country wants that.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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