Former White House aide Harold Ickes pressed former Commerce Department official John Huang to gather donations for the congressional campaign of Jesse Jackson Jr. in 1995, sources close to a congressional campaign finance inquiry said yesterday.
During more than 23 days of interrogation earlier this year, Huang told FBI agents that after being solicited by Ickes, he contributed $1,000 to Jackson's campaign and raised several thousand dollars more, according to sources close to the investigation. Last week, the Justice Department provided reports of Huang's debriefing to the House Government Reform Committee, which is expected to vote today on granting Huang immunity for testimony he might give to the panel.
Federal law bars government officials from requesting campaign donations from subordinates. Ickes, now a key strategist for first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate race, did not respond to requests for comment, nor did his attorneys.
Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) said he was not aware that Ickes had solicited Huang to raise money on his behalf during his 1995 primary race for a special election to fill the empty seat of former House member Mel Reynolds. Jackson said "it is very possible" that Ickes raised money on his behalf without his knowing of it, "however, I did not call or request Mr. Ickes to raise anything for me."
Congressional Republicans have been highly critical of Attorney General Janet Reno's decision not to seek appointment of an independent counsel to look into allegations of wrongdoing in campaign fund-raising by the White House in connection with the 1996 presidential race. Justice officials said yesterday that bringing a case against Ickes would be problematic because of questions about whether Huang could be considered a subordinate of Ickes under the law.
The House Government Reform Committee's investigation is one of two continuing congressional probes into the Justice Department's handling of campaign finance investigations. Also ongoing is a Justice Department task force on campaign finance, which has prosecuted dozens of fund-raisers and contributors, but no top White House officials.
Republicans believe that Reno wanted to protect the White House, and top aides such as Ickes, from prosecution, a charge she has vigorously contested. Although the revelation about Huang's FBI interrogation does not involve fund-raising for the Clinton-Gore campaign, sources said that doing a favor for Jackson may have been connected to the presidential race. Jackson's father, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, was considering mounting an independent presidential campaign in 1995 at the time of Ickes's call to Huang.
In another revival of an old scandal, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) told the Associated Press yesterday that he would investigate the Justice Department's timing in notifying independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr that he was under investigation for his conduct of the Monica S. Lewinsky probe.
Specter's comments were in response to an Associated Press report yesterday that Reno told Starr, in a meeting four days before Starr was scheduled to testify in impeachment hearings before Congress, that the Justice Department would review allegations against his office.
Justice Department sources said they still have a case open on Starr's conduct, including questions about his office's initial interrogation of Lewinsky over the course of a day without her attorney present.
Specter is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and heads a newly begun probe into the Justice Department's handling of its Chinese espionage investigation, campaign finance inquiry and other matters.
CAPTION: John Huang is said to have told the FBI that after being solicited by Ickes, he contributed $1,000 to Jackson's campaign and raised several thousand dollars more.
CAPTION: Sources close to a congressional campaign finance inquiry said that then-White House aide Harold Ickes, left, pressed John Huang, then a Commerce Department official, to gather donations for the congressional campaign of Jesse L. Jackson Jr., right, in 1995.