08/01/97 - 12:08 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Senate investigators still waiting for White House

WASHINGTON - The Senate panel looking into campaign fund-raising abuses put aside partisanship to subpoena White House documents and voice indignation over a private detective's plan to investigate one of its members.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee concluded its first month of hearings by exploring the activities of Democratic fund-raiser Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie.

An FBI agent working for the committee testified this week he believed that nearly $1 million wired from overseas to Trie helped finance his $220,000 in donations to the Democratic Party. The hearings also provided details about Trie's failed efforts to raise more than $600,000 for President Clinton's legal defense fund.

Finally, the panel also disclosed that an Asian businessman who wired the money to Trie visited the White House 10 times during the same period.

The hearings were marked by partisan rancor.

The unanimous vote - following only brief discussion - to issue the panel's first subpoena Thursday for White House documents may have helped defuse some of the bitter atmosphere of partisanship that had set the tone for the panel's deliberations.

"Now that we are out in public, under the lights, both sides understand that naked partisanship is not only counterproductive, but embarrassing," said Jim Jordan, a spokesman for committee Democrats.

The subpoena for White House documents was issued after lawyers for the panel concluded that a large amount of material requested last spring still had not been produced.

"I think the committee has come together over the last several weeks," said Paul Clark, chief spokesman for Republicans.

Members also united in voicing outrage upon learning that an Oklahoma Indian tribe discussed hiring a Washington private detective to dig up dirt on Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., and his family.

"There is a line to be drawn here," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. "We should all draw it together in terms of personal intrusion of our loved ones."

The comment signified another step toward bipartisanship that Chairman Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., had long sought but had failed to attain.

Democrats had blamed Thompson's failure to consult them on key issues. Republicans had, meantime, accused Democrats of acting as defense lawyers for the Clinton White House.

Thompson said he was concerned that the meeting between Terry F. Lenzner, head of a Washington-based investigative firm, and representatives of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribe was "apparently brokered."

Lenzner said he was approached by the tribe to determine if Nickles had received any favors or gratuities from Oklahoma's powerful oil and gas industry that might have spurred his opposition to returning former tribal lands to the Indians.

The tribe told him that a Democratic fund-raiser promised "favorable action" by the Clinton administration on the disputed land in return for a $107,000 donation, Lenzner said. The Democratic National Committee returned the tribe's donation earlier this year.

Spokesmen for the White House and the DNC disputed Republican suggestions that someone in the Clinton camp might have steered the tribe to Lenzner to trigger a probe of Nickles.

But Democratic senators on the panel voiced no objection when Thompson vowed to probe the circumstances of the meeting, which was set up by Cody Shearer, an acquaintance of the president and brother-in-law of Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott. Talbott's wife, Brooke Shearer, once worked for Lenzner's firm.

Another sign of bipartisanship was a deal to issue more than 20 subpoenas to Republican and Democratic interest groups to probe the alleged misuse of tax-exempt donations to help political causes. The deal was completed following weeks of negotiations.

Among the groups being ordered to produce documents were the Teamsters, the Democratic Leadership Council, the Christian Coalition and the National Right to Life Committee.

Another important milestone in closing partisan ranks was a vote last week to grant immunity from prosecution over Justice Department objections to four Buddhist nuns who gave money after a fund-raiser attended by Vice President Gore.

By The Associated Press

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