WASHINGTON - A former aide to Vice President Al Gore insists there was no link between the Democratic contributions of his lobbying client and a 30-fold expansion of the client's Energy Department contract.
Lobbyist Peter S. Knight told skeptical Republicans at a House hearing Wednesday that he was not involved with details of the contract, never discussed contributions by the company with Clinton administration officials and was not the person who invited Gore to visit the company plant.
Gore's April 1995 visit to the Molten Metal Technology Inc. facility in Fall River, Mass. - and the vice president's praise of its hazardous-waste cleanup technology - came in the same month that company executives agreed to raise $50,000 for the Clinton-Gore '96 campaign, records show. Knight was the campaign chairman.
The company's president, William M. Haney III, and its vice president for government sales, Victor E. Gatto, agreed to raise $25,000 apiece for a June 6, 1995, fund-raising dinner at the vice president's residence, according to records.
The House's chief campaign fund-raising prober, meanwhile, accused the White House of "unprecedented stonewalling of investigations" by delaying or withholding information sought by Congress.
Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, made the charge as he prepared to question White House lawyers about the six-month delay in producing videotapes of Clinton's meetings with Democratic donors.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the lead Democrat on the investigating panel, said the delay resulted from honest mistakes, not "malicious intent." But Waxman warned that White House officials "are going to lose their credibility" by repeated failure to produce information. "That is something they should take seriously."
White House Counsel Charles F.C. Ruff said "to say the videotapes were concealed or their production was delayed for some ulterior purpose is baseless."
In another campaign fund-raising matter, Congress' investigative arm said the White House has refused to confirm information on overnight guests in the executive mansion. A House subcommittee asked the General Accounting Office to determine the number of times an individual stayed overnight, the length of each stay and the cost associated with the visits.
The White House has said there were 938 guests, a figure that includes personal friends of the first family as well as Democratic Party donors.
Robert P. Murphy, general counsel of the GAO, said the White House contends the information sought was part of the private and personal papers of the president.
"There are costs to hosting 938 people in the White House," said Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., chairman of the subcommittee on Treasury, Postal Service and general government. Kolbe insisted there's "nothing sinister about our request," and noted that President Clinton received $8 million to operate the residence, including $6.3 million for 89 fulltime employees.
The estimate for the domestic staff's overtime this fiscal year is $550,000, an increase of 40% since the last full year of the Bush administration, Kolbe said in stressing the need for the information.
Gore's chief of staff, Jack Quinn, called Haney and Gatto to thank them a week after the vice president's Earth Day visit to the plant, according to a call sheet released last summer. They were among 32 donors who received calls from Quinn during a two-day period.
Knight thanked Haney and Gatto in a May 1, 1995, letter for their fund-raising commitment.
Republicans on the House Commerce oversight subcommittee are examining whether the $62,500 in donations the company made to the Democratic National Committee influenced DOE decisions between 1993 and 1996 to expand the contract from $1.2 million to $33 million.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the subcommittee chairman, said there was nothing illegal with Knight's lobbying for the company and raising money for the Democrats, except "he was doing both at the same time." And part of the lobbying, Barton said was to influence an Energy Department official - Thomas P. Grumbly - "with whom he had a longstanding relationship."
Grumbly also is a former Gore staff member.
The panel's ranking Democrat, Ron Klink of Pennsylvania, asked Knight a series of questions designed to demonstrate he did nothing improper.
"Did anyone from the White House, the vice president's office, or anyone ... in the Democratic Party at any time ever tell you how important it was to them that the ... contract for Molten Metal be funded?" Klink asked.
It never was discussed, Knight said.
Knight contended his role was to devise the company's lobbying strategy, but he never specifically discussed the contract expansion with administration officials. Nor, he said, was he aware of contract details.
By The Associated Press
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