10/08/97 - 12:24 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Clinton defends White House cooperation

WASHINGTON - President Clinton on Wednesday brushed off Republican charges that his administration has deliberately withheld evidence in the fund-raising investigations. He said videotapes of donor events at the White House show "no one has done anything wrong here."

Clinton spoke as his former deputy chief of staff, Harold Ickes, appeared for a second day before a Senate committee looking into campaign fund-raising abuses. The hearing Wednesday delved into questions of whether the White House knew about an illegal donation scheme involving unions.

Clinton said the White House has turned over a hundred thousand pages of documents to the committee, calling it "a pretty good sign of our good faith." He said he was sure there was a logical reason for the months of delay in turning over the videotapes to the Senate committee.

Senate investigators confronted Ickes with documents showing that three officials implicated in the scheme attended a White House coffee with President Clinton. That was the same month in which prosecutors allege Democratic officials and Teamsters union representatives arranged an illegal contribution swap.

Questioned by Senate committee chairman Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., Ickes said he had "no recollection" of the coffee and was certain he knew nothing about the alleged Teamsters scheme that is the subject of a criminal case in New York.

Thompson produced White House entry logs showing that Martin Davis, a consultant to Teamster's President Ron Carey's re-election campaign, and Clinton-Gore fund-raisers Terence McAuliffe and Laura Hartigan entered the White House on June 17, 1996, to meet the president.

The meeting was in fact a larger donor event that included others, the White House said.

Four days later, the union honored a DNC request for $236,500 in donations to state and local parties - an action prosecutors alleged were part of an illegal swap arrangement in which the party would also find a $100,000 donor to Carey's re-election at the union.

Thompson identified Hartigan and McAuliffe as the two unnamed Clinton-Gore officials that prosecutors implicated in court documents last month. Hartigan has declined comment, while McAuliffe has acknowledged being approached about the deal but said he declined to participate.

Ickes said he had no recollection ever meeting with Davis and "I wouldn't know him if he came in here and sat on my lap."

White House special counsel Lanny J. Davis charged that Thompson "deliberately misled" the public by failing to disclose that the events he referred to as meetings with Clinton were - in fact - Democratic National Committee events that included other people.

"Sen. Thompson referring to these events as 'meetings' somehow connected with the criminal investigation involving the Teamsters is at best misleading," Davis said. "It is unfortunate that Sen. Thompson does not think it is necessary to tell the complete story during his questioning today."

The disclosure came as White House lawyer Lanny Breuer was questioned by a federal grand jury for two hours about why videotapes of White House fund-raising events were not turned over to the Justice Department before last Saturday.

"I was pleased to have a chance to testify before the grand jury. From the time we were made aware of the tapes, we worked to expeditiously release them to the public," Breuer told reporters.

Ickes was defiant in his opening statement on Tuesday, saying he modeled White House political operations on "well-established Republican precedent" and has no apologies about raising large sums of money to stay competitive with the GOP during the 1996 campaign.

"We knew that the Republican money machine would raise more than we could and would outspend us," Ickes said.

Ickes faced extensive grilling Wednesday before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee about calls to donors from Clinton and Gore and about Clinton-hosted White House coffees for big-money donors.

"It simply is not illegal or untoward for a president or vice president to grant access to supporters, no more than it is illegal for a senator or other member of Congress to grant access to their supporters," Ickes said.

A House panel also was launching its own fund-raising hearings Wednesday following a false start last month. The sister of Democratic fund-raiser Charlie Trie and two other witnesses are expected to testify Thursday before Burton's committee about making Democratic Party donations for which they were later reimbursed by Trie.

By The Associated Press