Related topics

Probe Looks at Trips, Fund Raising

September 17, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Commerce Department officials asked the Democratic National Committee to generate a list of candidates for a 1994 trade mission to Russia, according to a Democratic Party memo.

That memo plus others from the party headquarters and the Commerce Department also show that Commerce officials urged the DNC to develop a list of businesses in each congressional district as a resource at a time when Democrats were gearing up for the 1994 elections.

The memos, obtained by The Associated Press, offer new evidence in investigations into whether Clinton administration officials improperly used government-sponsored foreign trips to boost Democratic fund raising. Congressional investigators have been looking into the allegations for years.

One of the new documents compelled a federal judge to broaden evidence-gathering powers granted to a Clinton critic who is pursuing a lawsuit regarding the trips.

Democratic Party and Commerce officials have steadfastly denied any direct link between the trade missions and donations to the party.

``To our knowledge no trade mission participant was ever selected because they were a DNC supporter,″ said Democratic Party spokesman Rick Hess.

When a list of Democratic contributors was found in a Commerce Department official’s files last year, a department spokeswoman said it was a personal document, not an official memo.

But in a Jan. 13, 1994, electronic-mail memo to his colleagues at the DNC, staff member Eric Silden reported that Commerce official Sally Painter had called ``to ask for a list of candidates for a trade mission to Russia.″

Silden’s e-mail suggested that DNC staffers use a list of suggested participants for a trade mission to Belgium as a starting point for coming up with a list for the Russia trip.

The memos contrast with the testimony of the former head of the Commerce office of business liaison, which arranged the trade missions. Melissa Moss had told the Senate she didn’t know of any DNC lists and such lists weren’t used that way by her office.

``Is this a typical way that OBL helped determine which companies to invite on trade missions?″ Moss was asked about the possibility DNC lists were used to pick trade mission participants. ``No,″ she answered.

Adding to the impression that work at the Commerce Department was closely attuned to politics are a memo from Painter to Moss, and a memo from the White House Office of Political Affairs to Painter.

On Aug. 6, 1993, Painter wrote to Moss: ``We contacted Rick Boylan of the DNC about the possibility of creating a list of businesses within each CD,″ or congressional district.

The project was rejected by DNC officials as being ``too cumbersome on DNC staff,″ according to Painter’s memo. The memo also said that a list of California businesses was being created, regardless, ``since the state has become a major project for RHB.″ The late Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown was a major player in Democratic politics.

Painter asked Moss whether the DNC shouldn’t still be urged to compile lists for ``other key states, (ie Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, etc?)″

A memo to Painter from Reta J. Lewis of the White House Office of Political Affairs urges Painter to consider taking ``fellow Clinton classmate, early Clinton campaign supporter and DNC Managing Trustee″ Gerald McGowan on a trip to the Far East.

Commerce spokeswoman Maria Cardona said department officials have no comment on ``what did or didn’t happen″ before William Daley became secretary in February 1997.

``When Secretary Daley came into office he instituted strict trade mission guidelines to ensure a fair and objective selection process (that) prohibits participation of any company referred by any political party,″ Cardona said.

Silden’s e-mail also recounted the criteria Painter provided for selecting mission participants: Painter wanted ranking officials at companies that did business overseas and were at least 51 percent American-owned.

``It shows that the criteria for selecting trade mission members were not related to fund raising or political support,″ the DNC’s Hess said Thursday.

Neither Moss nor Painter returned requests for comment Thursday.

The Painter memo gave new life to a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch, which is pressing a 1995 lawsuit to discover whether Brown issued trade-mission invitations to companies to raise campaign money for Democrats.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered on Sept. 11 that the DNC be subpoenaed for ``any and all documents and things, from January 20, 1993, to the present, which refer or relate in any way to the U.S. Department of Commerce and/or its secretarial trade missions....″

Update hourly