09/09/97 - 02:52 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version
WASHINGTON - CIA memos released Tuesday show that former Democratic chairman Donald L. Fowler contacted the agency on behalf of a fugitive businessman, despite a party memo warning that the donor's background was "full of significant financial and ethical troubles."
Fowler, grilled at a Senate hearing on campaign finance abuse, firmly denied, however, that he saw his aide's July 12, 1995, memo about oil man Roger Tamraz and insisted that "I have no memory of any conversation with the CIA."
Despite his failure to recall any CIA contacts, Fowler generally defended his efforts during the 1996 presidential campaign to help big donors get meetings with Clinton administration officials.
"It is fully appropriate for the head of a national political party to secure a meeting for a supporter with an administration official or even to advocate a worthy cause," Fowler said in his opening statement to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.
"Members of Congress do this; staff members of Congress do it; it is their responsibility to do so," Fowler told lawmakers.
A CIA memorandum dated Oct. 20, 1995, by an official whose name was kept anonymous, said that on the previous day, "Don Fowler called me at the behest of Roger Tamraz.
"Fowler said he was attempting to arrange a meeting between the vice president and Tamraz concerning Tamraz's oil pipeline from Ceyhan, Turkey to Baku, Azerbaijan, but was aware that there is opposition in the White House and from oil companies to Tamraz's involvement.
"Fowler queried whether I could provide him a copy of any correspondence on Tamraz I might prepare for the vice president."
A CIA memo on Dec. 28, 1995, said Fowler asked the CIA "if it could provide a letter on Tamraz to clear Tamraz's name with the president. Fowler was told that such information should be sought at the White House."
Fowler testified that while chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1995 to 1997, he resented White House interference with party fund-raising.
"We had a relationship of dynamic tension," Fowler testified of his dealings with Harold Ickes, who was deputy White House chief of staff and President Clinton's chief political adviser during last year's election.
Senate Republicans are trying to show that the Democrats' admitted fund-raising abuses were the result of overzealous efforts by Ickes and the White House staff to match GOP contributions.
Fowler acknowledged that party fund-raisers "had a separate charter" to report directly to the White House and that he resented Ickes' authority to overrule his decisions.
If party fund-raisers disagreed with Fowler, "they knew that if was Mr. Ickes... and not you that had the final authority," said committee counsel Mark Tipps. "I think that's a fair statement," Fowler said.
Chairman Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., asked Fowler whether it was true that if party fund-raising officials "wanted something to happen" they would go to Ickes and not Fowler.
"If there was a clear difference of opinion between Mr. Ickes and me, that statement would be true," Fowler said.
Fowler also defended his frequent contacts with federal offices.
Fowler said that "one of the principal functions of a political party is to serve as a link between government and the people."
He said he helped contributors and non-donors alike in securing meetings with government officials. "No one seeking a meeting was promised by me that the result he or she sought would be forthcoming," Fowler said.
Fowler also acknowledged that he always knew that controversial Buddhist temple luncheon attended by Vice President Gore was, "in essence a fund-raising event." But, he said, "It is my belief, was then and is now, that the vice president did not know anything about the fund-raising aspect of it."
Gore, who has steadfastly maintained he didn't know it was a fund-raiser, originally called the luncheon "community outreach" when the event became controversial last fall. Gore later that it was "finance-related."
On the issue of contacting government agencies on behalf of donors, Fowler admitted in a deposition taken in May that he helped the causes of a fugitive, a banana magnate and other donors who sought access to government policy makes.
Fowler did not acknowledge in May that he contacted the CIA on behalf of Tamraz, wanted in Lebanon on embezzlement charges. But Republican investigators confronted him with documents indicating he contacted the CIA on behalf of Tamraz.
In one July 1995 memo - which was among 22,500 Democratic Party documents recently turned over to the committee - a party staffer warned Fowler not to help the Lebanese-American businessman because of his background. Tamraz has denied the decade-old embezzlement allegations.
After Fowler received the internal party memo warning him about Tamraz, investigators said, the businessman contributed some $100,000 to the Democratic Party or affiliated groups and was allowed to attend at least four White House events with Clinton. He spoke to the president at a dinner about his efforts to build oil pipelines in the Caspian Sea region.
By The Associated Press
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