Former DNC Chair Don Fowler Faces The CommitteeAired September 9, 1997 - 10:00 a.m. ET
ANNOUNCER: This is a special report from CNN: The Senate campaign finance hearings into alleged fundraising abuses during the 1996 political campaign.
In Washington, here's Judy Woodruff.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.
Well, just a few minutes from now, on Capitol Hill, the Senate committee looking into abuses in raising money for last year's presidential campaign will resume public hearings.
This now is a live picture of the Senate hearing room. As you can see, there is Sen. Fred Thompson, the chairman of this committee. The room is just getting settled. The reporters are there. The staff is there. The senators are just beginning to trickle in.
After weeks of sessions in July, and a brief focus last week on Vice President Al Gore, today the target of these G.O.P. dominated hearings is the man who ran the Democratic Party during the '96 election. He is Don Fowler, and CNN's money trail correspondent Brooks Jackson has learned that after months of being a loyal soldier, Fowler may now be prepared to point a finger at others, including at someone who was once one of President Clinton's closest allies.
BROOKS JACKSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Don Fowler is laying part of the blame at the door of the White House. Fowler was questioned in private before today's public hearing. CNN obtained a copy of his testimony.
He accuses Harold Ickes, the former White House deputy chief of staff, of constantly interfering in DNC operations -- quote -- "He was involved in the management of the DNC in a fashion that I didn't appreciate that I didn't agree with.
It's a big change from last November, when Fowler defended the White House role.
DON FOWLER, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: There was no pressure to cut corners, or to do things that were improper to raise money. Absolutely not. Period. Zero. Nothing.
JACKSON: Now, Fowler accuses his own subordinates, former party finance chairman Marvin Rosen, and former finance director Richard Sullivan, of ignoring his orders, and taking cues from the White House, instead.
Fowler: "It created an attitude, a disposition that they did not have to be responsive to my office."
Fowler says the finance staff violated his policy, by falsely listing addresses of several donors as "430 North Capitol Street," the address of party headquarters. And in June last year, the same staff set up a "day at the White House" for big donors, including a movie- screening with the president. Fowler said he was neither invited nor informed, and got an evasive answer when he asked about it later.
But Fowler is both accuser, and accused. Republicans intend to rip into him over his admitted attempts to help some big donors get official action from the Clinton administration.
For Lebanese businessman Roger Tamraz, Fowler called White House national security aides, who had objected to Tamraz meeting the president. Tamraz gave nearly $200,000 and got several Clinton meetings.
Fowler may even have called the CIA to help Tamraz. Last March, Fowler denied it, issuing a statement saying, "I am clear and certain. I did not...call or contact the CIA."
But, under oath, Fowler backed off a bit, testifying, quote, "I have no memory of ever having talked to anybody at the CIA," adding, "memory is fallible."
Senate investigators say they have documents showing Fowler did call.
(on-camera): Fowler also tried to get a seat on a trade mission to Bosnia for one of his contributor, and he contacted the Interior Department on behalf of Indian tribes that gave $700,000 to the DNC. Now Fowler says there's nothing wrong with that. But Senate investigators say his admissions show the White House was for sale -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right, Brooks Jackson standing just outside the Capitol, and inside the hearing room we see that Don Fowler, the witnesses, has just walked over to the witness, which suggests to us that these hearings may be just about to get under way in a few minutes.
Don Fowler has been active in the Democrat Party for a long time, starting in his native state of South Carolia.
Our Senate correspondent Candy Crowley, who has been watching these hearings from the beginning, looks at how Fowler got to be one of the most powerful people in the Democratic Party.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Election night '94, Democrats got the political scare of four decades, Newt Gingrich was to become speaker of the House.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Because we're going to bring together a great majority to do great things for America.
CROWLEY: Bob Dole, President Clinton's likeliest rival in '96, reclaimed his title as Senate majority leader.
SEN. BOB DOLE (R-KA), MAJORITY LEADER: I've never known a better night in electoral politics than we've had tonight as a Republican Party and I want to thank everybody here.
CROWLEY: By early '95, the president's relevance was being questioned. Into this Clinton administration nadir enter Don Fowler.
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I needed one of those Don Fowler sticker that -- I've known Don Fowler since 1972, you think we're in trouble now, you should have been there then.
CROWLEY: A 20 year fixture on the political scene, Fowler, a popular modern southerner, was appointed to co-chair the Democratic National Committee with Sen. Chris Dodd, a liberal Northeasterner. The pair has separate but equal tasks, Dodd was to be the telegenic face of the DNC, Fowler was charge with whipping Democrats into shape for '96.
MARK SIEGEL, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: He was also there very clearly to reelect the president, to help ensure the president wasn't internally challenged and to assist in raising as much money as possible, as quickly as possible, as soon as possible to build the president's national support.
CROWLEY: In theory, Fowler made budget strategy and personnel decisions for the DNC. In practice, there is evidence of heavy White House involvement from then deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes. Still, when it all hit the fan, it was Fowler who offered a mea culpa to Democratic friends who remained faithful.
FOWLER: You know the buck stops somewhere, and this is where it stops. Thank you.
CROWLEY (on-camera): September's song will be different for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the changing relationship between Ickes and Fowler. Sources say, at the beginning, the relationship was quite good, but at the end of the campaign, says a Democratic source, all relationships had so deteriorated as to be irreparable -- Judy
WOODRUFF: All right, Candy Crowley. We're going to go right behind you now to Senator Thompson, who has just sworn in the witness, Don Fowler. Let's take a listen.
DON FOWLER, FORMER DNC CO-CHAIRMAN: Mr. Chairman, Senator Glenn, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity of letting me
appear before you today to explain what I know about fundraising during the 1995-96 electoral cycle. And I hope to dispel some of the misgivings that have been common in the media and other places during recent months.
Much has been said, written, and broadcast about the financing of campaigns during the recent election cycle. Events of this period will continue to be controversial for years. Many people with different perspectives participated in this process, and it is inevitable that we would get multiple interpretations of the events.
For myself, I hardly recognize some of the events as described by some. It seems as though I was in a different campaign, with different results or perhaps on a different planet. No doubt we will discuss some of these differing interpretations.
Mr. Chairman, you and your committee have a significant responsibility and a great opportunity. In my judgment, the campaign finance system used by American political parties and candidates is faulty in many respects.
Many of the faulty features of our system are perfectly legal. I hope that you and your colleagues will seek and find effective cures for these faults.
And of course, you have a responsibility to identify, to the extent possible in a proceeding of this type, those illegal acts, if any, committed by individuals of whatever political party. And to offer solutions that will be more -- that will more effectively preclude a repetition of these sins.
During the 1995-96 electoral cycles, we, at the Democratic National Committee, made mistakes. As chair of the Democratic National Committee, I accept responsibility for those mistakes.
When I was growing up, my father taught me that if you had a job, it was your responsibility to do it right, and do it right and proper. When I was in the Army, I was taught that a commander is responsible for everything his unit does or fails to do. That's a good operating principle for any organization.
I accept responsibility for the mistakes that we made. No one is more disappointed with our shortcomings than I. Those mistakes, however, were mistakes of process, not intent.
If any member of our staff, or anyone associated with our fundraising efforts did things that were illegal or unethical, they did so in violation of our policies. Our vetting was deficient, but our purpose and values were good and proper.
To the best of my knowledge, there was no intent by DNC officials to accept money from foreign -- illegal foreign sources. There was no intent to accept money in the name of anyone other than a donor. There was no intent to violate federal election laws or any other laws.
And to my knowledge, it did not happen. Our intent was
to conduct a campaign honorably, in compliance with all relevant legal and ethical principles. The campaign was run by good, decent, honorable, talented people and we worked very hard to follow the rules.
We achieved a great deal. The most important of those achievements being the reelection of President Clinton. We significantly expanded our base of people who made small contributions. We revolutionized our communication systems, we strengthened state parties and we conducted effective, coordinated campaigns.
Permit me, Senator, to make one point as clear as I possibly can. Despite pressing needs during the campaign to raise large sums of money to compete with a far better finance campaigns of our opposition party, no one, no one at the White House, not the president, not the vice president, nor anyone else, suggested that we cut corners, that we avoid rules or that we do anything other than comply fully with every rule, every law and every ethical standard. The president never did this, the vice president never did it, and as much as some would like to think otherwise, it simply never happened.
Let me mention a subject that will likely be brought up in questions by members of this committee. The media has reported that I made contracts with administration officials in behalf of DNC supporters. I will answer your specific questions about these contacts. But for the moment let me make several general comments. First, I have long believed that one of the principle functions of a political party is to provide a link between the people and government. I thus believe it fully appropriate for the head of a national party to secure a meeting for a supporter with an administration official and to advocate a worthy cause.
Members of Congress do this, staff members of Congress do this. It is your responsibility, their responsibility, it is appropriate for the head of a national political party to do it.
Second, the contacts I made were on behalf of non-contributors and contributors alike. Third, no one seeking a meeting was promised by me the result he or she sought.
To the best of knowledge no other DNC or administration official made such a promise either. It is my further hope that these proceedings will result in significant campaign finance reform. We have a campaign system that is badly flawed; one that accommodates abuse. If the result of these hearings is to repair that system, then they will have been a significant success. If there is no reform, these hearings will promote intensified cynicism.
Campaign finance reform has long been one of the critical needs of our political and electoral system. I believe, for example, that soft money or large contributions by any description have a pernicious effect on federal campaigns and should be eliminated or vastly reduced. I do not come to this opinion lightly.
The committee has a July 1995 document that reflects my suggestion that the Democratic Party in the last election, not accept
contributions in excess of $2,000. As a result of these hearings, I hope that a similar limitation will be placed on all contributions. Mr. Chairman, I commend you and other members of this committee for endorsing campaign finance reform in general, and specifically, the McCain-Feingold bill. While this proposal is not perfect, it is a worthy start and would improve substantially the current system.
I respectfully submit, sir, if this committee concludes its work without achieving significant campaign finance reform, the skepticism and cynicism of the American people will be intensified. I disagree with those who contend that citizens don't care how we finance campaigns. Indeed, many Americans think that nothing can or will be done about this critically important subject. They do have a care and yearn for a better political system where big money has less influence, the little guy and the average guy, average citizen is on more of a more equal footing with the rich and powerful. I believe with conviction, that if these proceedings end in effective campaign finance reform, many Americans will regain faith and confidence in our political system and your work will have been worth it. Thank you sir, and I'm ready to answer your questions.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON (R), GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS COMMITTEE CHMN.: Thank you, Mr. Fowler.
I -- you know, appreciate the challenge of our -- this committee achieving campaign finance reform. If we had 60 votes on this committee, we might could do something about that right away, but we -- we perhaps can do our part.
FOWLER: Well, I appreciate your leadership, Mr. Chairman.
THOMPSON: And I appreciate your being here today. And we'll begin the questioning with Mr. Tipps.
MARK TIPPS, DEPUTY CHIEF COUNSEL FOR THE MAJORITY: Good morning, Mr. Fowler. Good morning, Mr. Hamilton.
If we can just jump right into it, Mr. Fowler, I believe you served as the chairman of the DNC from January 1995 to January 1997. Is that correct?
FOWLER: That's correct.
TIPPS: And as you described that for us, that was sort of a bifurcated situation. I think Senator Dodd was also one of the chairmen, and he focused a little more on communications, and you were looking at more the day-to-day operations. Is that accurate?
FOWLER: That's correct.
TIPPS: All right, sir. In just thinking a minute about your role at the DNC, as I understand your testimony and your deposition, you basically saw your job to oversee the general operations of the party, including things like fundraising, like political operation liaison to state parties, and to some extent communications. Although, again, Senator Dodd would have had a little more of a role in that. Is that correct, sir?
FOWLER: The operations of the communications system were my responsibility. He functioned as the principle spokesman of the party.
TIPPS: I see. And those kinds of divisions -- I guess one way we can look at the DNC, as I understand it, it was broken down into groups like a finance division, a research division, political, communications, things of that nature. Correct?
FOWLER: In general, that is correct.
TIPPS: All right, sir.
Now, our focus, obviously, here has been on fundraising. We had some fundraising concerns and problems, and I think as you put them in your opening statement shortcomings in the last election. Now, my understanding is that at the DNC, the primary fundraising arm of the DNC is the finance division. Is that correct, sir?
TIPPS: During most of your tenure at the DNC as chairman, I believe Mr. Marvin Rosen served as the finance chair. I think he came in about August of '95. Is that accurate?
FOWLER: August or September, yes.
TIPPS: Of 1995?
FOWLER: That's correct. And served through January of '97.
TIPPS: Yes. Thank you. Prior to that, I believe Truman Arnold served for a few months, and I think Terry McAuliffe was there right when you got there, but wasn't there long, right?
TIPPS: All right.
Now, in your opening statement, Mr. Fowler, I commend you, you take responsibility for certain things that happen, and you mention shortcomings, but I think you may be a little bit hard on yourself when you do that because, looking back at your deposition, I think it's fair to say that when you first got the DNC, you found some problems in the finance division, particularly, as you put in your deposition, a lack of coordination with the rest of the DNC staff. And I think the phrase you used -- "They operated with a distinct sense of independence." Is that correct, sir?
FOWLER: I would say that's accurate, yes.
TIPPS: All right, sir. And your judgment was, I believe, that from what you could tell when you got there, the finance division seemed to have a bit of an attitude that they were running their own show and not really coordinating well with the rest of the DNC staff. Is that correct?
FOWLER: There were certain elements of that attitude that offered a challenge. Yes, Mr. Lipps (sic), that's correct.
TIPPS: All right, sir. And I believe, as you told us, you attempted to -- I think your phrase was achieve a fuller coordinated arrangement, to sort of bring them back into the fold a bit. And you made some progress in that respect, but as you told us, you never really got to a point where you felt satisfied with that coordination. Is that accurate?
FOWLER: I think that's accurate. There were lots of phases of the operation that I never was satisfied with, but we did make progress.
TIPPS: All right, sir. And the finance division was one of the areas where you never got satisfied, right?
TIPPS: All right. Now, examples of the kinds of things that this sense of independence sort of spawned or caused, as you put it, there was a failure of your office, the Office of the Chairman, to get sufficient notice sometimes of events, and as you put it, certain decision about events and who would participate in events and what would transpire in the events, those sometimes would be executed without the full and complete clearance from your office. Is that accurate, sir?
FOWLER: In a general sense, yes.
TIPPS: All right, sir. Now, you remember testifying to that in your deposition, don't you?
TIPPS: All right.
Now, you discussed this problem with Mr. Rosen, the finance chair, and you discussed this problem with Richard Sullivan, who is the finance director, and I believe you talked to him on several occasions about these kinds of problems, correct?
TIPPS: And I believe your testimony was that they never disagreed with you in principle that there needed to be some work done and a fuller coordinated arrangement. But I believe your phrase was that your directives and your guidance -- yours -- were not executed as you would have liked, and in fact were often ignored by the finance division. Is that correct?
FOWLER: If I used the term "ignored," perhaps that was too strong, Mr. Lipps (sic). But the term you used earlier about complete, full coordination I think would be more accurate, rather than that they ignored the directives.
TIPPS: All right, sir. Let me just...
FOWLER: I don't want to split hairs with you, but...
TIPPS: All right, sir. I don't want to split hairs either. Let me just ask you to take a look at page 61 of your deposition. I want to read this back to you. Incidentally, my name -- my last name is Tipps...
FOWLER: Tipps. I'm sorry.
TIPPS: That's all right. Because it confused me, too. I was reading your deposition. I noticed your counsel's last name is Lipps ...
FOWLER: Is Lipps.
TIPPS: ... and I thought it was me.
FOWLER: I apologize.
FOWLER: Mr. Hamilton just informed me of this.
TIPPS: That's all right. I made the same mistake. On page 61, line 8, you ask this question: "Did you ever talk with anyone who didn't agree with that?" That being these, these -- bringing in principle -- bringing the fuller coordination to the finance department.
"The answer, in principle, no."
Question: "In the execution?" And Mr. Hamilton said, "You have to answer that, Don."
And your answer was, "Yeah, well, it was not my -- my directives and guidance were not executed as effectively as I would have liked to have had them.
Question: "Was it a matter -- as opposed to your directives being defied, it was more of a matter of them being ignored."
The answer, "I would say that's a fair statement."
Did I read that correctly?
FOWLER: You did. I might quibble a bit with the use of that term on my part, Mr. Tipps.
TIPPS: All right, sir. But that was your testimony ...
TIPPS: ... and your deposition?
FOWLER: Yes, that's correct.
TIPPS: And certainly you were sworn and were telling the truth at that time?
FOWLER: That's correct.
TIPPS: All right. Now. We'll talk a little bit about what the problem was. This sense of independence and an attitude of running their own show. Let's focus now on why they seem to have had that sense of independence. And I believe you told us in your deposition that, from your vantage point, the finance division, the fundraising arm of the DNC, seemed to have an independent relationship with the White House. And that, as a result, decision-making sometimes bypassed your office. Is that accurate, sir?
TIPPS: And, of course, organizations don't have relationships without people acting them out. And in this instance, the people we're talking about, from the finance division standpoint, would be Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Rosen.
And from the White House standpoint, the primary people were Ms. Hancox and Mr. Sosnik at the political affairs department. And then also, in terms of the most authoritative would be Mr. Ickes. Correct?
FOWLER: That's correct.
TIPPS: All right, sir. Now. The bottom line, sir, in your judgment -- I believe you told us in your deposition that you felt the finance division was deriving its authority -- or it felt that it derived its authority from the White House. And I jotted down a couple of phrases you used. I was looking back through your deposition last night. You said they seemed to have a quote, end quote, "separate charter". Quote, end quote, "separate line of
communication; that they took their mission and charter from the White House." Is that accurate, sir?
TIPPS: Can you pull that microphone a little closer to your mouth? Thank you.
And they seemed to do what they thought the White House wanted done, and not necessarily what your office wanted done. Correct?
FOWLER: On some occasions, yes.
TIPPS: And they seemed to have, as you put it, "an attitude", or a quote, end quote, "disposition to ignore what you wanted". Correct?
FOWLER: I would again quibble a bit with my word that I used, ignore, but, yes, in essence.
TIPPS: And this problem, as you put it, manifested itself regularly, on a continuing basis, did it not?
TIPPS: Now, let's talk for a minute, Mr. Fowler. You mentioned in your opening "shortcomings". Can you -- I know this was difficult in your deposition, and it may be hard again to talk about specifics, but can you outline for us examples where this sense of independence, this independent relationship with the White House or the separate charter that your finance arm seemed to have with the White House?
Can you outline examples of where that contributed to some of the shortcomings or some of the problems that the DNC seemed to have had in the last election?
FOWLER: Well, Mr. Tipps, I don't know that the shortcomings or the description of the relationship that you just went through contributed specifically to some of the shortcomings which I alluded to in my opening statement. The relationships which you described created certain organization difficulties within the DNC, but in terms of the shortcomings that I alluded to, I don't know that I can identify any one specific factor there.
TIPPS: Right. And I don't mean to ask you to speculate. I know we're talking 20/20 hindsight. But clearly, as you put it in your deposition, this was a problem with the process, the way things were functioning in the finance division, and is it fair to say that you -- again, not asking you to look with 20/20 hindsight -- but you believe that had you been able to get involved more the way you wanted it to be with things coming through your office, as opposed to the White House, get your arms around things a little bit better, clearly you couldn't have corrected everything. But you might have a positive or curative effect on some things. Isn't that likely, sir?
FOWLER: I wouldn't disagree with that, Mr. Tipps.
TIPPS: All right. Now, we mentioned the main person, or the most authoritative person over there at the White House who was having this independent relationship with your finance arm was Harold Ickes. Harold Ickes, of course, at that time was the deputy chief of staff at the White House. And You've known Mr. Ickes for years, haven't you?
FOWLER: Mr. Ickes and I have been friends for many years.
TIPPS: Since -- I think you said sometime around 1980. Is that right?
TIPPS: Now, if Mr. Ickes woke up each day and thought the same way you did, the fact that he had this relationship with your fundraising arm might not be as much of a problem, but as you told us in your deposition, the two of you had a difference of opinion or disagreements about how the DNC ought to be run. And, in fact, that interfered with your ability to run the DNC, didn't it, sir?
FOWLER: I think, Mr. Tipps, in my deposition, I made a statement
similar to that, but I also said that these were not categorical differences; these were differences of degree; these were differences of emphasis.
I don't think that the -- there were any categorical differences there. They were marginal in degree.
TIPPS: Let me help you. On page 38, line 11, you're asked this question: "Did you ever feel that Mr. Ickes was interfering with your ability to run the DNC?" Answer: "Yes. Well, let me rephrase that. There were times when he and I had differences of opinion about how things should be run."
Did I read that correctly, sir?
(UNKNOWN): Mr. Tipps, if you're going to use his deposition, could we please be provided with a copy?
TIPPS: You should have copies.
(UNKNOWN): Is there a copy in the book here?
TIPPS: The gentleman right behind you has a copy. I guess he must have taken yours.
All right, sir. In any event, is it fair to say, Mr. Fowler, that the difference of opinion, as you told us in deposition, the difference of opinion with Mr. Ickes arose soon after you got to the DNC and continued up until the very end of your time there?
FOWLER: We had a relationship of dynamic tension, Mr. Tipps. I think that to be a ...
TIPPS: Dynamic tension?
FOWLER: Yes, sir.
TIPPS: That's a new one on me. Can you expound on that a bit?
FOWLER: I think I used that in my deposition. By that I mean we communicated a lot, we had disagreements, but we managed to work through those disagreements.
TIPPS: All right, sir. And the disagreements, in fact, involved, as you put it, the budget matters, oftentimes how money was raised, how it was spent, and I believe your phrase was "the general operational thrust of the party." Is that accurate?
FOWLER: The sense of that's accurate, yes, sir.
TIPPS: That is what you've said in your deposition.
FOWLER: Well, I'm sure you're reading it correctly, yes.
TIPPS: All right, sir.
FOWLER: I don't remember anything that I said that would contradict that.
(UNKNOWN): May I ask where you are in this deposition?
TIPPS: Well, at this point I'm not reading from the deposition, but I'll be happy to read that answer to you if you want to.
(UNKNOWN): No, no, no. I just wanted to follow along with you if you were reading directly from it.
TIPPS: No, sir, I'm not, but I will be happy to show you where that answer is if you would like to look at it.
Now, Mr. Fowler, I believe you also told us that you didn't believe or that you felt that Mr. Ickes was involved in the management of the DNC in a fashion that you didn't appreciate or agree with. Is that accurate, sir?
FOWLER: As I said, it was a relationship of dynamic tension. When you're part of a political party operation, you have the White House, you expect that the White House will exercise a fair amount of influence over the party's operation. And Mr. Ickes was the designated person in the White House to carry out those responsibilities. And while we did have differences of opinion, we managed to make the system work.
TIPPS: Well, sir, I'll tell you what. Let me just ask you to turn and this will take care of maybe my next couple of questions, as well, turn to page 61 of your deposition, line 23.
You got that? You're asked a question on line 23 of page 61. Question: "Did you ever feel that Harold Ickes tried to micro-manage the operations of the DNC?"
Answer: "Micro-manage might not be my term, but I did feel that he was involved in the management of the DNC in a fashion that I didn't appreciate -- that I didn't agree with -- that I felt that I should have been the instrument for that management effort and that the management effort should have come through me."
Question: "Did you ever tell Mr. Ickes that?"
"Tell me what Mr. Ickes told you." I'm sorry, "Tell me what you told Mr. Ickes."
Answer:" "Well, I told him that."
Question: "OK, how did he respond?"
Answer: "Well, he disagreed with it, and on some points he ignored my objections."
Did I read that correctly, sir?
TIPPS: Now, as a result of this independent relationship that your fundraising arm seem to have with the White House, and the problems that stem from that -- did you ever try to go over Mr. Ickes' head to anyone else and discuss this problem? In other words, I guess the only people left over there would have been Mr. Panetta. Did you discuss this with Mr. Panetta?
FOWLER: I do not recall that I did, Mr. Tipps.
TIPPS: Do you recall ever discussing these disagreements or differences of opinion with the vice president?
FOWLER: I do not recall that I did.
TIPPS: Or the president?
FOWLER: Same answer.
TIPPS: Well, I think we've got a pretty good view there. Maybe we can just cut to my final two questions and I appreciate your candor up to this point. Mr. Fowler, I think you would agree with this, and I'm speaking more generally now, as to what went on at the DNC in this last election.
Bottom line is, sir, that if Marvin Rosen and Richard Sullivan, your two main people in the finance division, they clearly understood that -- if they wanted something to happen or not to happen -- they wanted a decision made, they knew that it was Mr. Ickes, the deputy chief of staff at the White House, and not you who had the final authority with respect to those kinds of things, isn't that correct, sir? It's a fair statement, isn't it?
FOWLER: If there were a clear difference of opinion between Mr. Ickes and me I think that's a fair statement, but I'm not sure that that happened all that much, Mr. Tipps, but, I don't want to quibble with the nuances of your statement.
TIPPS: Alright, because in fact, you said that in your deposition, didn't you sir.
FOWLER: Something similar to that, yes.
TIPPS: Yes, sir. Alright. Let's move to another subject if you could, Mr. Fowler. Very briefly. I just have one or two questions here. We've been talking about the fundraising department, the fundraising division. And let's move from the division itself to an event that was set up by one of your fundraisers who worked in that division, Mr. John Huang. The event that I'd like to focus on very, very briefly is the Hsi Lai Temple event on April 29, 1996 in Hacienda Heights, California.
You were aware, of course, that Mr. Huang helped set that up. Correct?
FOWLER: Specifically, I don't know that I was aware that he set it up prior to the event or many days prior to the event, but I knew that he was involved in fundraising in the Asian community and I certainly assumed that if an event were held in an institution like that that he would be involved.
TIPPS: Right. I believe your testimony was that when you got to event and saw him you assumed that he had been involved in helping set that up. It would have been his job, right?
TIPPS: Now you attended the event, correct?
FOWLER: I did.
TIPPS: And, as you tried to attend many DNC events, correct?
FOWLER: Lots of them. Yes.
TIPPS: Lots of them. And this was an event that was put on by the DNC -- arranged by the DNC. And I believe you spoke and the vice president spoke and the master of the temple spoke -- is that accurate?
FOWLER: That's correct.
TIPPS: Alright, sir. And there's been lots of -- I don't know how to phrase it, but there's been lots of what I would call tortured descriptions or definitions of what this event was or was not, but I was looking back to your testimony last night, and I have to say it was a bit of a breath of fresh air because in your testimony you talk of concerns that you had about the event -- which were eventually allayed -- and you're asked a question about those concerns. And in the answer to your question, which I'm going to read in a second, you don't call it a finance-related event or a fundraising related event or a quasi fundraiser, an almost fundraiser.
TIPPS: This is what you say on page 278, line 15. You're asked this question about the Hsi Lai Temple event:
"And what was the nature of your concerns?"
Answer: "Well, the nature of the concern was that having a fundraiser in a place of worship, just the appropriateness of it."
And you continue, "I'm going to have to say that I didn't focus on the legality question because it just didn't come up in my mind."
That was your testimony back last May, and you were telling the truth when you gave that answer, weren't you, Mr. Fowler?
TIPPS: That's all I have, Mr. Chairman.
FOWLER: Mr. Tipps, Mr. Chairman, I would like an opportunity to comment on that event generally, if I may.
THOMPSON: You prefer to do that now? I'm sure you're going to have an opportunity to comment on it several times before the day is over.
FOWLER: I want to do it now, if I could, sir.
THOMPSON: All right. Go right ahead.
FOWLER: I want to be as accurate about this event as I can be. From the very first time I was asked about it, I indicated that I knew that it was -- that it had a fundraising aspect to it, that it was, in essence a fundraising event.
But it was more than that. It was not an event -- a fundraising event like many events are. There was no specifically designated sum of money required to be admitted. There was nobody at the door taking up tickets, nobody at the door receiving checks. Some people contributed prior to the time they came, and some people contributed after they came.
Many people who came did not contribute at all. It was, in fact, part of a political outreach that the Democratic National Committee
had with the Asian community. It was a blended event, if you will -- partly political and partly fund raising.
The question arise -- arises -- arose in my mind, was this appropriate? And let me say that, as my deposition indicated, I did have some apprehension about a fundraiser in a house of worship, but I learned that with Buddhist and with people from the Asian community that a temple like that is as much a community center as it is a house of worship, and frankly, I related that to my own experience in the '60s, in the civil rights movement, where much of the political activity was held in the African-American churches, and much of what went on stemmed from the spirit and from the motivation received in those churches.
And I considered, when I was going through that in the '60s, that to be an appropriate activity. So that allayed my concerns about the propriety of the fundraising.
Now, one other thing, and then I'll leave the subject. Two other things, if you will. I have been asked a number of times about the vice president and did he know. To my knowledge, he did not know that this was a fundraiser. He was asked about it, and I discussed this with -- later -- not contemporaneously -- with one of his staff people, and I was told that there's nothing in his briefing papers about that.
And so, as a consequence, it is my belief, was then and is now, that the vice president did not know anything about that -- the fundraising aspect of that.
As you indicated, Mr. Tipps, there were three people who made presentations there -- myself, the temple master and the vice president. None of the three of us many any reference to raising money, contributing money, giving money before or after. So it didn't have that aspect.
Last point, let me say that I have heard, almost without variance, references to this being illegal. It's illegal to have a fundraiser of any kind within a house of worship. It is my understanding that there is no legal prohibition against having political events or fundraisers in houses of worship.
The place where the law comes into question there is in the tax code, and it affects the tax circumstance of the institution. But it is not illegal in the sense that there is some categorical prohibition. And I think that the distinction there is quite clear and should be recognized by people who discuss this in terms of the law.
THOMPSON: All right, sir. We'll have an opportunity to discuss that in more detail as we go along.
FOWLER: Yes, sir.
THOMPSON: I'd like to ask you, in the time that we have remaining here, and perhaps my first ten minutes, to have some continuity here, about a particular area, and it has to do with something you brought up in your opening statement.
It has to do with the question of access -- a question that we all face. It has to do particularly with the question of access with regard to an individual who, at the same time, is contributing large amounts of money and how we handle situations like that.
I think most of us think that it depends on the particular circumstances of the case and what exactly happened and what were the facts. In that regard, I'd like to talk to you about the facts of a particular instance and see if we can find out what happened with regard to Mr. Roger Tamraz.
I think it's safe to say, first of all, that Mr. Tamraz was someone who early on was perceived as someone who could be of significant help to the party. Is that correct?
FOWLER: Yes, sir.
THOMPSON: And I believe the record indicates that you met him in July of 1995.
THOMPSON: In that particular time. And was a potential major
contributor. But there are also questions that some people had about him and about the way that he had conducted his business in the past. Is that not correct?
FOWLER: There were some questions about his -- Senator, I'm not sure that it was business as much as it was some events that occurred in his life while he was in Lebanon that I was aware of.
THOMPSON: All right, sir. You received a memo from and Alexandria Castillo (ph), I believe.
FOWLER: Allejandro Castillo (ph). Yes, sir.
THOMPSON: All right. Exhibit 881 is that memo. Who is this individual?
FOWLER: She was a person then who prepared briefing papers for me, Senator.
THOMPSON: All right, sir. And this memorandum here basically discuss Mr. Tamraz, it says, in re. a meeting with Mr. Tamraz. It's a memorandum from her to you and talks about Mr. Tamraz' potential managing trustee member. It says, pursuant to your meeting with Mr. Tamraz on July 11, I would like to forward to you some information recently received on his business operations pending your guidance. And, it discusses Mr. Tamraz's background, it gives biographical information, on the next page it has a section -- events 1990. It discusses the fact that he had a plan for a $2 billion dollar pipeline from the Caspian Sea to a port in Turkey, I believe.
And it says, the Capsian deal is growing Washington in. Washington is feeling the mounting pressures from oil companies. It mentions several of them there -- Amoco, Mobil, Exxon, Bechtel, Chevron. The Clinton administration is being pushed to alter its pro- Russia policy and start backing the republics in an attempt to push the deal forward. It says based on the above-stated events, it's clear Mr. Tamraz has several problems pending before the international business community. Among the more recent events concerning Mr. Tamraz is his bar from participating in a commerce department trade board (an official Carol Care (ph) -- How do you pronounce her name?
FOWLER: Care (ph).
THOMPSON: ... received a warning from Department of Commerce.) In a conversation held with Mr. Ari Swiller yesterday, Mr. Tamraz's expressed his -- and who is Mr. Swiller?
FOWLER?: He is a staff member in the fundraising division, sir.
THOMPSON: All right, sir. Mr. Tamraz expressed his desire to contribute $300,000 to the DNC. Indeed, his contribution is greatly appreciated and highly needed, however, his past involvement in shaky international business in paramilitary organizations may generate considerable problems for the DNC.
Mr. Tamraz seeks political leverage to secure his oil ventures in the Russian Republic. Our association with Mr. Tamraz should be well
defined -- a difficult task given his complex business connections and political associations. His business background has proved to be full of significant financial and ethical troubles. Pay attention to these warning signals! I hope this memo has provided you with the information needed.
Do you recall receiving this memorandum?
FOWLER: I do not, Senator. It obviously is a matter of record, but I do not recall this memo.
THOMPSON: Do you recall receiving any memorandum from Ms. Castillo (ph) with regard to Mr. Tamraz?
FOWLER: No, I do not.
THOMPSON: Do you recall having any conversation with her about it?
FOWLER: Not with her. I had conversations about Mr. Tamraz with Mr. Swiller and other people from the finance division.
THOMPSON: Did Mr. Swiller relate some of the things that are in this memoro-- memorandum concerning Mr. Tamraz's questionable background?
FOWLER: In a general sense.
THOMPSON: Did he give you the same admonition that all...
FOWLER: May I correct myself on a technicality there? I said I remember having talked to Mr. Swiller about it. I'm not sure it was Mr. Swiller, but it was someone from the finance division. Perhaps it was Mr. Swiller. Perhaps it was Mr. Sullivan or somebody else, but I did have a conversation where, in general, some of this information was related to me.
THOMPSON: All right. Was it related to you that he desired to contribute $300,000 to the DNC?
FOWLER: I do not remember any specific sum -- $300,000, $100,000. It was clear because the reference came from the finance division that he was a potential contributor, but I don't remember and specifics on it, Senator.
THOMPSON: The memorandum here says, "a potential managing trustee." At what level would that put him?
THOMPSON: Were told that he was trying to use political leverage to secure his oil ventures?
FOWLER: No, sir. I knew that he had an interest in the oil that was in Central Asia and that he had a -- you know, a plan -- he was working on a plan to secure that oil for Western consumption. But, you know, the details I just didn't know.
THOMPSON: But what I'm trying to get out at this point is as of, say, July of 1995, from reading your deposition, even before the date of this memorandum, it appeared that questions arose what was what in your mind as of July 1995 as far as Mr. Tamraz. You knew he was a potential significant contributor. You know also that there had been questions raised about him or about his dealings, in terms of being, frankly, a potentially -- a shady character of some sort. Is that not correct?
FOWLER: Senator, my recollection of what I knew about Mr. Tamraz at that time was that he had had a significant problem in Lebanon, and he gave me an explanation of what the origin of that problem was, which seemed to make sense to me. And that is that he had tried to open negotiations with Israelis in an effort to improve relationships between the two countries, and that what happened to him in Lebanon was a direct political act resulting from his attempts to create friendly relations with the Israelis.
Now, that's what he told me.
THOMPSON: That's what he told you. And, of course, this is not what is said in this memorandum. Are you testifying today that you definitely did not see this memorandum?
FOWLER: I'm testifying, sir, that I have no recollection of having seen this memorandum.
THOMPSON: All right, sir.
During this period of time, Mr. Tamraz started making contributions to Democrat-related individuals and entities. Is that correct?
FOWLER: That's correct.
THOMPSON: In total, in 1995/1996, he contributed in the neighborhood of $300,000, did he not?
FOWLER: I do not know what the sum is, Senator, but it was a substantial sum. Without quibbling about precise dollars.
THOMPSON: The exact amount.
THOMPSON: The records indicate, and I'm referring to exhibit 888, if you want to refer to it. On July the 19th, a week after this memorandum I've just been talking about, he wrote four checks to different entities -- Virginia Democratic Party for $25,000; Richard Malthus (ph) for governor of Mississippi $20,000; the Louisiana Democratic Party for $25,000 and the DNC federal account for $20,000. Did you discuss these contributions with him before he made them?
FOWLER: Senator, I do not remember, but let me try to be as helpful as I can on this. The contributions to Mr. Malthus'(ph) campaign and to the Louisiana campaign were transmitted by me to those
two entities. I do not know if I solicited those contributions or
not, but I will say that whether I did or not, given the level of information I had about Mr. Tamraz at that time, I wouldn't have had any problem with having asked him for those contributions.
THOMPSON: I'll take my ten now, if I may, just to have some continuity here. We'll equalize the time, it that's all right.
On page two, if -- of this exhibit, it says here, "the solicitor for these contributions was D. Fowler." So you would not have any...
FOWLER: I wouldn't...
THOMPSON: You wouldn't question that...
THOMPSON: ... that you -- that you ...
FOWLER: No, sir.
THOMPSON: ... solicited those contributions from Mr. Tamraz on July the 19th. On September the 10th he also contributed another $50,000 to the DNC.
Does that comport with your recollection?
FOWLER: Well, it comports with the record here and not with my recollection. But I don't question that, sir.
THOMPSON: All right, sir. Let's -- the records indicate exhibits 860 and 861, if I can summarize a bit, that Mr. -- Mr. -- sometime in the September timeframe, that Mr. Tamraz was put on a list of people to have breakfast with the vice president.
There was a breakfast to be held on October the 5th. There were a dozen people to be in attendance. Mr. Tamraz was one of those people. You were going to be one of those people. I guess you were. I guess you had the breakfast, did you not? On October 5 -- the vice president, you and Mr. Rosen, the chairman -- finance chairman of the DNC?
FOWLER: I attended those breakfasts, Senator, so, yes.
THOMPSON: All right, sir. And then ...
FOWLER: I was not the host, if that's what you're implying, but I was there, ...
THOMPSON: No, ...
THOMPSON: I didn't ...
THOMPSON: ... don't mean to suggest that you were the host. But then, Mr. Tamraz was disinvited.
WOODRUFF: We're going to continue our live coverage of the Senate Campaign Finance hearings in just a moment. We'll be right back
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Continued: Sen. Thompson Questions Fowler
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