10/05/97 - 08:36 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Videos may force investigation of Clinton

WASHINGTON - The White House on Sunday released videotapes showing President Clinton greeting donors at 44 finance-related coffees during the year before his re-election. The president is seen thanking his visitors without directly asking for money.

In footage from one reception, a former Democratic Party chairman could be heard refusing five checks from a donor who offered them inside the White House - while Clinton talked golf with another guest.

The DNC official, Don Fowler, tells the donor the checks could be handled later.

The tapes were provided to the news media by the White House without comment late in the day. Recorded by White House television crews between Aug. 3, 1995 and Aug. 23, 1996, the tapes had been turned over to Justice Department and congressional investigators late Friday.

The revelation of the tapes touched off a political firestorm among Republicans who demanded to know why they were not turned over when the White House was first asked for all records related to fund-raising for the 1996 elections.

"We want them all," said Rep. Dan Burton, head of the House panel investigating campaign finance irregularities. "We didn't even know about them, and that really bothers us," Burton, R-Ind. said on Fox News Sunday. "We're going to check very thoroughly into the logs of the White House to make sure we get all of those videotapes."

The footage released Sunday shows a pattern to the coffees, which Republicans and other critics insist were fund-raising events. They typically were held in the White House's Map Room, part of the residential portion of the White House, although one event was held in the Oval Office and another in the Roosevelt Room across the hall.

They show Clinton entering the room, accompanied by Fowler, or former aide Harold Ickes. The president would greet guests, invite them to sit with him at an oblong table, then make brief remarks.

One June 18, 1996 snippet shows Clinton shaking hands with Democratic fund-raiser John Huang, who brought in guests to Clinton's coffees and is at the center of charges that the Democrats accepted illegal donations from abroad. There was no sound provided.

On footage from Dec. 13, 1995, a donor can be heard telling Fowler that he had five checks to give. Fowler declines, makes a reference to attorneys, and says "As soon as this thing is over I'll call you and we'll get it set up. I'm sorry. ..."

At the time, Clinton is seen and heard greeting coffee guests and animatedly discussing golf with one of them.

He said Thompson is considering using the tapes when Ickes testifies on Tuesday.

At another coffee, held Feb. 6, 1996, Clinton is introduced to Miami computer executive Mark Jimenez in a hallway outside the Map Room. He thanks Jimenez - perhaps for some kind of donation to a fund to preserve the president's boyhood home - saying "We're very excited in my hometown."

Paul Clark, spokesman for the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee headed by Republican Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, said the panel requested the tapes from the White House in July. "It's another indication that it took the White House two to three months to supply something that could have been received in two or three weeks," Clark said Sunday.

He said Thompson is considering using the tapes when Ikes testifies on Tuesday

The tape release came as Attorney General Janet Reno was being urged by Republicans to reconsider her decision not to request an independent counsel to investigate Clinton.

Time magazine, in its edition on newsstands Monday, made the initial revelation that the White House has begun to turn over to the Justice Department and Congress tapes of more than 100 coffees and dinners Clinton gave in 1995 and 1996.

Time said the release came just hours after Reno, while continuing an investigation into Vice President Al Gore's fund-raising calls from the White House, announced she had found no evidence that Clinton violated the law by having potential donors to coffee in the White House and letting big contributors stay overnight in the executive mansion.

"Clearly there is now additional evidence," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation.

McCain, a champion of campaign finance reform legislation who has been a rare Republican supporter of the attorney general, said Reno's credibility "is in real serious danger. ... I have never seen anything like it, and I'm not sure longtime Washington observers have since the firing of Archibald Cox."

Cox was a special counsel who lost his job during the Watergate investigation for refusing to give up his pursuit of President Nixon's White House tapes.

"This is not another Watergate," former White House counsel Jack Quinn said before appearing on CBS.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., proposed that the Senate Judiciary Committee stage a hearing to probe Reno's actions. "I do not think we can let stand what the attorney general is doing," he said on CNN's Late Edition.

"We have a Democratic attorney general who is acting like a defense council for the administration, and it's pathetic," said Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, on ABC's This Week.

Quinn said that while that White House has been "massively in compliance" with congressional requests for documents, "it will have to explain why these were turned over in a tardy way."

Burton also said he may ask his House Government Reform Committee to grant limited immunity to Huang so he can testify before Burton's scheduled hearings on fund-raising practices. Huang sought limited immunity from prosecution so he could testify before Senate hearings. No deal could be worked out there.

By The Associated Press

Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.