09/14/97 - 10:20 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Ickes to be questioned again by Senate investigators

WASHINGTON - Former presidential aide Harold Ickes will be called back for more questioning by Senate investigators about how the Democratic Party used donations raised by President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, Senate sources say.

Ickes acknowledged in a June 26-27 deposition that he asked Clinton to call donors "two, three, maybe four times."

Ickes is also expected to be asked at a second deposition about whether Gore knew when he telephoned donors from his office that he was raising the type of contribution covered by a ban on soliciting donations on government property, said the aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Gore denies any wrongdoing. The vice president's 46 calls are being reviewed by the Justice Department to determine if Attorney General Janet Reno should seek appointment of an independent counsel.

The Senate panel's plans to call the former deputy White House chief of staff back for more closed questioning signals that Ickes will not be called as a witness at public hearings until early next month.

In fact, no final decision has been made on whether to call Ickes to public hearings, aides to Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said last week.

Based on the defiant tone of Ickes' answers in the first deposition, Ickes would not necessarily help Republicans build their case that the White House sold access to the president in return for large donations to Clinton's re-election effort.

Ickes insisted he didn't get into the details of how the Democratic Party raised money. "My focus ... was the bottom line, as they like to say in the finance business."

Ickes insisted he knew of no plans to charge donors for the privilege of attending White House social events with Clinton or to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom.

"As far as I know, there was no direct connection between an amount of money that you gave and being invited to the White House," Ickes said in his deposition.

"Had I known of it, I would have not only disapproved of it I would have told them to stop doing it," he said.

Even though his files contained DNC projections for amounts of money to be raised at White House coffee klatches, Ickes said: "I did not pay that much attention ... to the dollar amounts put by each event."

"That was something professional fund-raisers estimated," Ickes said.

Ickes said he was more concerned about whether "enough money was coming in, hard and soft, to finance the upcoming cash flow" and "did the fund-raisers need additional events?"

Ickes said Clinton made only a few fund-raising calls. Clinton himself has left open the possibility he called donors but has no specific recollection of telephoning any.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, told CNN's Late Edition that he was disturbed that "Ickes knew that the president made phone calls from the White House."

"The president has denied remembering that he made these calls and apparently it was an ongoing operation," said McCain, a co-sponsor of legislation to reform campaign fund raising.

Ickes said he learned Clinton had followed through on his infrequent requests to make calls "when I was fortunate enough to find out that he had, in fact, made a phone call."

"I would ask the president if he would make calls. He didn't volunteer to make calls," Ickes said. To make sure Clinton made the calls, Ickes said, "I would bug him in a very low-leyed way as to whether he had made or was intending to make the phone calls."

Ickes couldn't recall any specific discussions about the legality of the calls, but said he was confident he was they would be by "one of the many, many, many lawyers that inhabit the White House Counsel's Office."

Ickes says he wasn't privy to any discussions among Gore's advisers about whether it was legal for the vice president to make fund-raising calls from the White House.

"I did not deal in that regard with the vice president," Ickes said. "He had his own counsel and his own political staff."

The former deputy White House chief of staff was first questioned before Senate investigators learned that the DNC had placed $120,000 in unregulated "soft money" donations raised by Gore's telephone calls in an account for "hard-money" contributions. "Soft money" contributions are for party-building activities and are not limited; "hard money" is strictly regulated by campaign-finance laws.

Last week, Senate Republicans produced three 1996 memos by Ickes as evidence that Gore knew that some of the money he was raising in the phone calls would be covered by the statute that bars him from soliciting donations on government property.

But Democrats and the White House argued the memos, even if Gore read them, were not proof the vice president knew that his calls to donors would produce "hard-money" contributions.

Senate investigators also want to know whether Ickes has knowledge of an apparent plan by the DNC to request $1 million from the Teamsters Union to state and local party affiliates. A memo making the proposal was sent under the name of the DNC's finance director but was actually written by an official in Clinton's re-election campaign, several sources have told The Associated Press.

By The Associated Press