Seizing on new videotapes of President Clinton greeting supporters at 44 coffee klatches, Republicans say there now is proof that Clinton raised campaign donations at the White House in violation of the law.
The tapes, released Sunday by the White House, show Clinton thanking his visitors without asking for money. In footage from one reception, then-Democratic National Chairman Don Fowler refuses five checks offered by a guest, apologizes and says the checks could be handled later.Irate Republicans demanded to know why the White House waited so long to reveal the tapes, which were turned over to them and the Justice Department only on Friday.
"We didn't even know about them, and that really bothers us," Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., head of the House committee investigating campaign finance irregularities, said on "Fox News Sunday." He promised to check White House logs to ensure that all of the videotapes were turned over.
A Senate committee had asked the White House in July for all materials related to fund raising for the 1996 elections.
"We inadvertently did not realize that these tapes were in existence. This was an honest mistake," White House special counsel Lanny Davis said in a telephone interview Sunday. "Nothing on these tapes is inconsistent with what we've previously stated regarding what occurred at these White House coffees."
Former Clinton adviser Dick Morris said Monday the White House explanation for not providing the tapes until now is believable. "There is no story of White House screw-ups that could possibly shock me anymore. In many ways it is the most disorganized place you could imagine," Morris said on ABC's "Good Morning America."
He said the tapes "basically confirm what the president said, which is these were ego trips for supporters. They can talk about it and then a week or two later they get this horrendous phone call, `Please give money to the campaign.' While that's not in good taste, it sure isn't illegal."
Republicans are urging Attorney General Janet Reno to reconsider her decision not to request an independent counsel, or special prosecutor, to investigate Clinton.
An 1883 law bars the solicitation of political donations in federal offices.
GOP lawmakers said the tapes - recorded by White House crews between Aug. 3, 1995, and Aug. 23, 1996 - bolster their argument for an independent counsel.
"Clearly there is now additional evidence," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "I have often voiced my respect and admiration for (Reno), . . . but I think we are now reaching a point where her credibility is in real serious danger."
Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., whose Governmental Affairs Committee asked the White House for fund-raising materials in July, is considering presenting the tapes when former Clinton aide Harold Ickes testifies to the panel Tuesday, spokesman Paul Clark said.
The tapes show a pattern to the coffees, which Republicans and other critics insist were fund-raising events. They typically were held only a few days apart in the Map Room, part of the residential section of the White House, although one event was held in the Oval Office and another in the Roosevelt Room across the hall.
The president is seen entering the room, accompanied by Fowler or Ickes. Occasionally other aides are with him, including Clinton's current chief of staff, Erskine Bowles, and Labor Secretary Alexis Herman, then the White House director of public liaison.
Clinton would greet guests, invite them to sit with him at an oblong table, then make brief remarks.
On footage from Dec. 13, 1995, a donor can be heard telling Fowler that he had five checks to give. Fowler declines, makes a reference to attorneys and says: "As soon as this thing is over I'll call you and we'll get it set up. I'm sorry. . . ."
At the time, Clinton is seen and heard greeting coffee guests and animatedly discussing golf with one of them.
A snippet from a June 18, 1996, tape shows the president shaking hands with Democratic fund-raiser John Huang, who brought in guests to the coffees and is at the center of allegations that the Democrats accepted illegal donations from abroad.
No sound was provided with that tape, although there was sound on the other recordings provided by the White House. Witnesses have differed over whether Huang made a fund-raising pitch at the event.
At another coffee, held Feb. 6, 1996, Clinton is introduced to Miami computer executive Mark Jimenez outside the Map Room.
He thanks Jimenez - perhaps for some kind of donation to a fund to preserve the president's boyhood home - saying, "We're very excited in my hometown." Jimenez replies that he has visited Clinton's hometown.
Time magazine in this week's issue made the initial revelation that the White House has begun to turn over to the Justice Department and Congress tapes of more than 100 coffees and dinners Clinton gave in 1995 and 1996.