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02/10/98- Updated 06:03 PM ET

Report suggests DNC chairman lied

WASHINGTON - In a draft report on their campaign finance probe, Senate investigators suggest a former Democratic national chairman lied under oath about his contacts with the CIA on behalf of a donor seeking U.S. support for an oil pipeline through Central Asia.

Don Fowler, who was chairman of the Democratic National Committee, testified in a sworn deposition and in public hearings before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that he had no recollection of contacting a CIA agent for information about Roger Tamraz, the contributor whom Fowler helped gain access to the White House.

But Fowler's own handwritten notes and telephone records suggest he knew that the contact, identified only as "Bob," was a CIA agent and testimony from two White House aides indicate Fowler referred more than once to the agent in his discussions with them about Tamraz, investigators say.

The agent testified that Fowler asked him for information that would allay concerns of National Security Council staffers who had opposed granting Tamraz access to any high-ranking government officials.

"Fowler has been less than candid in his recollection of these events," reads a draft section of the committee report obtained by The Associated Press. "Because Fowler twice talked to Bob, recorded Bob's full name and CIA affiliation in his notes, and told at least two other people of his contacts with the CIA officer, it is extremely unlikely that Fowler genuinely did not recall his contacts with the CIA."

Fowler's supporters have argued that he had no reason to lie about the conversations. In his deposition, Fowler said that "I have plumbed my memory in every way that I can, and I have no memory of ever having talked to anybody at the CIA." His attorney, Jim Hamilton, declined comment Tuesday.

In his appearance before the committee, Tamraz, a millionaire oilman from Lebanon, bluntly informed the committee that the $300,000 he gave to Democrats for the 1996 election was intended to gain access to top White House decision makers in spite of the NSC's qualms about his background.

Tamraz, who has become a U.S. citizen, was promoting an oil pipeline project from the Caspian Sea through the Caucasus, but NSC staffer Sheila Heslin, who chaired an interagency group working to secure an agreement to build a pipeline in the region, resisted his requests for support.

Heislin, who learned that Tamraz had exaggerated his contacts with Central Asian leaders and oil companies and that he had a checkered financial history, warned other administration officials to steer clear of Tamraz. Tamraz has had legal troubles in France and Lebanon stemming from two bank failures.

After a breakfast meeting between Vice President Al Gore and Tamraz was canceled because of Heislin's concerns, Tamraz worked his political contacts to secure an invitation to a fund-raising dinner at the home of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. He was seated with Gore and Kennedy.

Later, he managed to raise the pipeline idea at a fund-raising event with President Clinton.

In a later meeting with Fowler and a DNC aide designed to overcome the NSC's resistance to his plan, Tamraz encouraged the party officials to contact Bob, who had already been calling Heislin on his behalf. Fowler's handwritten notes from the meeting reflected Tamraz' comments.

Bob submitted a statement to the committee saying Fowler "called me at the request of ... Roger Tamraz" and that Fowler "was attempting to arrange a meeting between the vice president and Tamraz concerning Tamraz' oil pipeline."

Bob said he didn't tell Fowler he was a CIA agent.

Concerns about the allegations have already prompted the CIA to draft new rules to prevent its employees from essentially lobbying other government officials.

Meanwhile, the chairman of a House committee looking into fund raising urged Attorney General Janet Reno to appoint an independent counsel to investigate what role political donations played in the Interior Department's decision to deny a request to open a casino by Native Americans in Wisconsin.

Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., complained that the department and administration officials had withheld documents from House investigators and attorneys involved in a civil suit against Interior.

"The facts and allegations raised during our hearings make it clear that a thorough and independent investigation is required," Burton wrote.

By The Associated Press

Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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