10/08/97 - 06:28 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Counsel didn't tell Reno about tapes

WASHINGTON - White House Counsel Charles F.C. Ruff met last Thursday with Attorney General Janet Reno but failed to inform her of the discovery a day earlier of videotapes relevant to her fund-raising investigation, aides say.

White House special counsel Lanny J. Davis said Wednesday that Ruff knew of the tapes, which show President Clinton at donor coffees last year, but "never thought of" informing Reno at their regular weekly meeting.

"His focus was responding to the Senate committee, which had requested the tapes, and he has expressed his regret" to Reno, Davis said.

He also said Ruff had agreed not to discuss the fund-raising case with Reno at the weekly meetings.

Davis said that at the time of Thursday's meeting, Ruff "did not regard the videotapes as having any potential impact on the attorney general's pending report."

That report came out Friday and concluded there was no need for an independent prosecutor to investigate Clinton's participation in the coffees.

The Justice Department wasn't shown the video footage until Saturday, the day after Reno's announcement. The Senate committee investigating fund-raising abuses was informed Friday.

Davis said the delay in turning over the tapes was an oversight. At a briefing on Monday he said the attorney who was to notify Justice about the tapes had been off last Thursday for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. On Wednesday, Davis said the holiday was not a cause for any delay. The material could have been given more promptly to prosecutors, he said.

The months-long delay in discovering the video footage, which shows Clinton playing host for donors at White House coffees last year, outraged Republicans who have accused presidential aides of a cover-up.

And the slow response last week after the tapes were located prompted the Justice Department to bring a White House lawyer, Lanny Breuer, before a federal grand Wednesday to answer questions.

The tapes reveal that:

-Clinton on one occasion took donors into the Oval Office.

-Arief Wiriadinata, an Indonesian landscape architect whose $450,000 in Democratic donations were returned because he and his wife did not file a 1995 federal tax return, greeted Clinton at a Dec. 15, 1995, coffee. "James Riady sent me," Wiriadinata told Clinton, referring to the son of the foreign Lippo Group empire.

-One donor offered to write checks inside the White House but was turned down by then-Democratic Party chairman Donald Fowler.

Republicans say the new evidence could have swayed Reno's decision if it had been disclosed earlier. The White House denies any attempt to withhold the information to affect that decision.

Justice officials said a quick initial review of the footage has not produced anything to alter their legal analysis, but the review is continuing.

By The Associated Press

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