10/09/97 - 12:26 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Reno 'mad' about tape release delay

WASHINGTON - Attorney General Janet Reno bluntly said Thursday that presidential aides' handling of the belated discovery of fund-raising videotapes has strained her relations with the White House. "I was mad," she said.

Reno's stern assessment of the episode last weekend came as investigators on both sides of Capitol Hill held hearings into fund-raising abuses.

Senators were focusing on an alleged illegal scheme to swap donations between a union and the Democratic Party. House investigators sought to question the sister of controversial fund-raiser Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie about laundered political contributions.

At her weekly news conference, Reno described her reaction Saturday when informed that tapes requested earlier by her campaign finance task force had just been found at the White House - and that presidential aides had waited three days before telling the department.

The incident "strains somewhat" the department's relations with the White House, she said.

"Where the White House has a responsibility to produce documents, it's very, very frustrating when they are produced in a delayed fashion," Reno said. "And I also thought we should have been told immediately."

The tapes show President Clinton meeting donors at controversial White House coffees during the last election. The White House found them last Wednesday but did not inform the Justice Department until Saturday - one day after Reno concluded there was no need to name an independent prosecutor to investigate Clinton's role.

But Reno said the tapes her investigators have reviewed so far would not have changed her prior conclusions about any need for a special prosecutor.

Even though the tapes showed one of the coffees occurred in the Oval Office as opposed to the resident area of the White House, Reno said the key issue is whether Clinton "either solicited or received" contributions at the events.

Reno denied press reports and congressional allegations that her investigators have not followed all leads. She dismissed complaints from unnamed FBI sources that Justice prosecutors had prevented investigators from conducting interviews.

"In any investigation, there is tension between investigators and prosecutors. That can be healthy," she said.

She said she met Wednesday with the task force and the new director she installed last month, Charles LaBella, and, "There's a real spirit of teamwork now."

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, meanwhile, was grilling two former Democratic National Committee fund-raising officials Thursday, one-time finance director Richard Sullivan and Mark Thomann, about their knowledge of an alleged scheme to swap donations with the Teamsters Union to aid union president Ron Carey's reelection last year.

Sullivan, making his second appearance before the Senate panel, confirmed in an interview Sunday that he asked a subordinate, Thomann, to consider directing a $100,000 contribution to Carey. The proposal was dropped when its legality was questioned, Sullivan said.

Sullivan said he made the request at the urging of Laura Hartigan, a Clinton-Gore '96 campaign official. She worked with Martin Davis, a consultant who pleaded guilty Sept. 18 in what federal officials described as an illegal scheme to swap Teamsters' money for contributions to Carey's campaign.

"I made that call as a favor to Laura Hartigan, who for reasons not clear to me was intent on trying to help" Carey, Sullivan said. "When (Thomann) came back and said it was not legal ... I just dropped it."

The Senate panel months ago looked at the fund-raising activities of Trie, a former Little Rock, Ark., restaurateur and longtime associate of President Clinton who is suspected of sending illegal foreign money into Democratic coffers.

Across the Capitol, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee summoned the first witnesses in its campaign finance investigation - Trie's sister, Manlin Foung, her friend Joseph Landon and David Wang, a Democratic fund-raiser in California.

While Trie has left the country, Foung and Landon previously told House investigators that Trie purchased their $12,500 tickets for a Democratic Party fund-raising event in northern California.

Foung also said her brother reimbursed her for an additional $10,000 donation, according to committee aides.

Wang has described how he was reimbursed by Trie or an associate for a $5,000 ticket he purchased to a fund-raiser. He was invited by Democratic National Committee fund-raiser John Huang, the aides said, adding that some of the money was traced to foreign accounts.

By The Associated Press