Washington Bulletin

Washington Bulletin


What about Bob?
Roger Tamaraz, the shady Democratic contributor who tried to trade contributions for White House approval of his overseas pipeline project, appeared before the Thompson committee Thursday, unrepentant and brandishing a droll sense of humor.

The committee yesterday heard damaging testimony from a National Security Council aide about the pressure put on her to approve a Tamaraz meeting with President Clinton. The aide, Sheila Heslin, described how an Energy Department official named John Carter called her in April 1996 to say that senior Clinton advisor Mack McLarty wanted Tamaraz to meet Clinton and that Tamaraz had contributed $200,000 to the Democrats and was promising $400,000 more. Heslin maintained that Carter urged not to be a "girl scout" and to drop her objections to Tamaraz.

Carter and another Energy official named Charles Simpson were at the witness table today trying to put a more innocent gloss on their handling of the Tamaraz matter. In testimony at times at odds with his deposition and with the recollections of Heslin, Carter said that he agreed with Heslin that Tamaraz shouldn't get presidential access and that he didn't mean to pressure her. A crucial issue was who mentioned Tamaraz's political contributions. The figures $400,000—200,000" show up in Heslin's notes of her conversation with Carter.

Carter admitted reluctantly today that his numbers may have come from Simpson, whom McLarty had asked to look into Tamaraz. That seems to indicate that the ultimate source of the contribution figures was McLarty, a damaging datum because it suggests that the White House was going out of its way for Tamaraz explicitly because of his contributions. But both Simpson and McLarty deny knowing about Tamaraz's contributions.

Whatever one believes about the source of the information about the contributions, Tamaraz himself was perfectly willing to get to the bottom line. Asked by Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) if he would have gotten in the White House door (he did six times, despite the objections of Heslin and others) if he hadn't contributed large dollar amounts, Tamaraz answered: "honestly, no." An indignant Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.), huffing about "this darn system," asked if one of the reasons he contributed was access, Tamaraz responded: "It's the only reason."

Under questioning from Sen. Joe Lieberman (D., Conn.), Tamaraz said he contributed: 1) because he had hopes of getting a job in U.S. foreign policy. He cited Robert Rubin and others, saying they've "all given more than I have"; 2) because all the other oil executive give big donations and go to the White House. This way at White House events, he explained, "we smile and nod and now we know we have to be careful with each other"; 3) "I'm promoting my project."

A small man with wire glasses and a Middle Eastern accent, Tamaraz played for laughs, even as he was barraged with hostile questioning by senators. At one point, he explained, "You think you get into the White House you've won. [But] the fight begins when you get into the White House. Then there's a guerrilla fight to get close to the President. First, the President is surrounded by the ladies because they swoon around him."

Also continuing to make his surreal presence felt at the hearings is "Bob," the CIA agent who at first seemed to have been the victim of political tampering in the Tamaraz affair, but now actually appears to have lobbied Heslin on Tamaraz's behalf. Hearing the senators constantly evoke this single informal name, "Bob," in such an august setting has its comic aspect.

Laughs aside, it's clear the Democrats were at least selling access in 1995-96. It's an embarrassing episode—witness former DNC finance director Richard Sullivan's stumbling response to the quid-pro-quo allegations in his committee—and one the White House would clearly like to have behind it. But having jokers like Tamaraz paraded before congressional committees is the least price the White House should have to pay for it fundraising sins.

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Updated By:
Rich Lowry - National Political Reporter
Ramesh Ponnuru - National Reporter



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