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Reno irked at White House over videotapes

Attorney General Janet Reno said bluntly Thursday that presidential aides' handling of the belated discovery of fund-raising videotapes has strained her relations with the White House. "I was mad," she said.

Reno's stern assessment of the episode last weekend came as investigators on both sides of Capitol Hill held hearings into fund-raising abuses.Senators were focusing on an apparent scheme to swap donations between a union and the Democratic Party. House investigators sought to question the sister of controversial fund-raiser Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie about laundered political contributions.

At her weekly news conference, Reno described her reaction Saturday when informed that tapes requested earlier by her campaign-finance task force had just been found at the White House - and that presidential aides had waited three days before telling the department.

The incident "strains somewhat" the department's relations with the White House, she said.

"Where the White House has a responsibility to produce documents, it's very, very frustrating when they are produced in a delayed fashion," Reno said. "And I also thought we should have been told immediately."

The tapes show President Clinton meeting donors at controversial White House coffees during the latest election. The White House found them last Wednesday but did not inform the Justice Department until Saturday - one day after Reno concluded there was no need to name an independent prosecutor to investigate Clinton's role.

But Reno said the tapes her investigators have reviewed so far would not have changed her conclusions about any need for a special prosecutor.

Even though the tapes showed one of the coffees occurred in the Oval Office as opposed to the resident area of the White House, Reno said the key issue is whether Clinton "either solicited or received" contributions at the events.

Reno denied press reports and congressional allegations that her investigators have not followed all leads. She dismissed complaints from unnamed FBI sources that Justice prosecutors had prevented investigators from conducting interviews.

"In any investigation, there is tension between investigators and prosecutors. That can be healthy," she said.

She said she met Wednesday with the task force and the new director she installed last month, Charles LaBella, and, "There's a real spirit of teamwork now."

Democratic fund-raising, meanwhile, was examined in hearings on both sides of Capitol Hill.

Senators focused on an alleged illegal scheme to swap donations between the Teamsters and the Democratic Party. A former party fund-raiser testified he was asked to consider arranging a $100,000 donation from a foreigner to the union but abandoned the idea because of concerns about the legality.

The fund-raiser, Mark Tho-mann, also disputed the earlier sworn testimony of former Democratic Party finance director Richard Sullivan that he did not ask anyone to raise money for the re-election campaign of Teamsters President Ron Carey.

Manlin Foung, sister of Democratic fund-raiser Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie, testified at House hearings under a grant of immunity that she twice gave donations to Democrats at her brother's urgings, then received reimbursements from foreign accounts.

Democrats accused a second witness, who also was to testify with immunity, of giving false testimony.

Thomann disputed Sullivan's sworn Senate deposition last month that he "did not ask anybody else to raise money for Ron Carey." Thomann told Senate hearings that Sullivan asked him to consider arranging a $100,000 contribution to Carey's campaign.

Thomann said he had no knowledge of the alleged swap scheme but felt pressure from a Carey campaign lawyer to collect the donation. Thomann also disputed Sullivan's testimony that he did not know anything about the donor, Filipine businesswoman Judith Vazquez.

Sullivan swore in a Sept. 5 deposition, "I don't know anything about Judith Vazquez." But Sullivan acknowledged that he had spoken to Thomann about an unnamed Filipina and "asked him to check with her attorneys" to see if such a contribution were legal in case they wanted to ask her to contribute in the future.

Thomann said when he discussed the $100,000 contribution with Sullivan, "I would use her name and her company's name," Thomann said. "He knew who I was referring to."

Ultimately, the donation was not made because he determined she was ineligible to make the contribution, Thomann told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.