Gavel To Gavel

Gavel To Gavel: Fund-Raising Hearings

Ickes Delivers Unapologetic, Feisty Opening Statement

Outrage over tapes consumes morning of Senate fund-raising hearings

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Oct. 7) -- Partisan venting consumed the Senate fund-raising hearings this morning, as furious Republicans roundly criticized the White House and Attorney General Janet Reno over the belated discovery of 44 videotapes of the controversial White House coffees.


After hours of waiting, the day's much-anticipated star witness, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes, was finally sworn in late this afternoon. Time only allowed for Ickes to give his opening statement, but in his half-hour lecture to the panel, Ickes delivered a preview of the feisty and combative style that is expected to characterize his testimony Wednesday.

Ickes set the tone early. "I know it is customary for witnesses to express their great pleasure to appear before you, but because I am under oath I am unable to say I share that sentiment," he told the panel.

The consummate insider before being unceremoniously dumped after the election last year, Ickes was in the middle of all White House goings-on. He is considered the chief architect of Clinton's re-election campaign, and can be seen hovering around the president in the White House coffees tapes.

Admitting that mistakes may have been made, Ickes defended President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore's actions as entirely legal. "I want to state categorically that I know of no violation of law by the president or vice president. I was unaware of any violation of law by the White House staff, the leadership of the DNC or the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign or by the staffs of those organizations," he said.

Ickes was unapologetic for involving his candidates in fund-raising efforts, arguing that Democrats knew they would be badly outspent by Republicans.

Insisting that the Clinton-Gore campaign operated entirely within existing campaign finance laws, Ickes said it was in the power of the senators to pass needed reform. "I respectfully suggest that your complaint is with the law, not with us. We played by the rules," he said.

Partisan motives were behind the Senate's public hearings, Ickes said, in order to "tarnish the Democratic Party in general, and President Clinton, and more pointedly, Vice President Gore."

Challenging the president


Unusually sharp partisan shots flew all morning as both sides complained of obstructions in their individual investigations.

Sen. Fred Thompson, the committee's chairman, opened the day's session with a remarkable 30-minute statement railing against what he called the White House's stonewalling tactics. "It is clear that the White House is trying to run out the clock on this committee; there is a clear pattern of delay, foot-dragging, concealing with regard to this committee," Thompson said.

The chairman issued a direct challenge to Clinton to call for an independent counsel himself and force his people to cooperate with the Senate probe: "Mr. President, I would suggest this is your campaign ... You have a responsibility. I would call on you to encourage these people to come forward and testify. Get to the bottom of who is doing what over in your White House, in terms of complying with these document requests.

"I'm talking about using the authority of your office to encourage them to do the right thing. I would call on you to do, as you've done before, and call on an independent counsel yourself," Thompson continued. (288K wav sound)

Glenn responded with accusations that Democrats have had equal trouble getting the committee to issue its subpoenas and also face non-cooperative Republican organizations. "Where the minority has been concerned, we have had a lot of trouble getting subpoenas issued, and the ones we have fought for and finally got issued have been ignored or not complied with; we have asked that they be enforced and that hasn't been done," Glenn said. (448K wav sound)

Following the complaints of impeded investigations running up against the committee's Dec. 31 deadline, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) suggested the panel consider requesting the full Senate to extend its operations into 1998, or simply use the committee's normal government oversight jurisdiction to justify further hearings.

Targeting Reno


Reno came under strong Republican fire as well for her continued refusal to seek the appointment of an independent counsel. Senators raised questions whether the Justice Department's review of Democratic fund-raising has been intentionally incomplete that it could miss the existence of these tapes.

Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) questioned Reno's truthfulness and suggested she be fired. "The attorney general is so inconsistent with her statements that I share with you a concern that the president of the United States ought to relieve her of her responsibility," Domenici said. (320K wav sound)


Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) shot back that Republicans were obstructing justice through their threats of impeachment. "The criticism [Reno] has received, the threats that have been made against her and the position she holds, are the political equivalent of an obstruction of justice," Torricelli said. "In an ironic sort of way, members of the majority have made it almost impossible for the attorney general to actually name an independent counsel. She's been threatened with impeachment, hearings, she should be immediately replaced. If the woman names an independent counsel, it's going to appear she was intimidated. And if she doesn't, she's defending the president."

Justice Department spokesman Bert Brandenburg, responding to criticism of Reno and the calls for her ouster, said, "It's political rabies. Fortunately when it comes to applying the law, cooler heads will prevail. This is why the law must be interpreted by professionals, not politicians. Political bullying will never work on this attorney general."

Thompson vs. Glenn


The hearings unexpectedly recessed for three hours in the early afternoon to settle a dispute between Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Thompson (R-Tenn.) and ranking Democrat John Glenn of Ohio, over Glenn's request to call White House Counsel Charles Ruff to the witness stand to answer questions about the discovery of the videotapes.(448K wav sound)

Thompson refused to call the unscheduled witness, saying, "This is not a cocktail lounge that you can wander in and take a seat at the bar and tell your story to the bartender." (416K wav sound) After Glenn insisted that the committee vote on Ruff's appearance (448K wav sound) -- a vote Thompson would have lost because many Republican senators were not in the room at the time (480K wav sound) -- the chairman trumped Glenn by calling a recess to investigate the rules of order. (416K wav sound)

Ruff's appearance at today's hearing was a deliberate counter-strategy by the White House to the expected Republican outrage. The attorney told reporters that he was there to put the matter of the tapes to rest by answering all the senators' questions.

"This is a pattern of lawyers and others in the White House busting their backs to do the best work they can to be try to be responsive," Ruff told reporters.

"Yes, we didn't do this -- we didn't produce these videotapes on time. My letter to Sen. Thompson made clear we should have found them. But the one thing that is absolutely clear is that the only pattern here is not one of incompetence -- and we don't make an incompetence defense -- the pattern here is one of an ongoing intensive day-to-day effort to try to meet the committee's needs and that is the only pattern a fair reader can see," Ruff said.

In Other News:

Tuesday Oct. 7, 1997

Outrage Consumes Senate Fund-Raising Hearings
More Gridlock On Campaign Finance Reform
President's Use Of Line-Item Veto Angers Congress
California Term Limit Law Struck Down
Clinton Rails Against 'Poison Pill' Amendment

E-Mail From Washington:
White House Lawyer To Appear Before Grand Jury Wednesday
Shots Fired At Washington Monument
Ex-Reagan Guard Jailed For Sex With Minor

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