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Loyal Clinton Aide Denies Favor For Banker

April 26, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ One of President Clinton’s most loyal aides from his days as governor spent hours fielding questions from a Senate panel about an investment banker who lobbied Clinton for Arkansas bond contracts and later did time on cocaine charges.

She denied that Clinton, who was Arkansas governor at the time, favored the banker, Dan Lasater.

Testifying all day Thursday before the Senate Whitewater Committee, Betsey Wright, Clinton’s chief of staff when he was governor, also disputed Republican suggestions that he arranged favors for his Whitewater partner and a campaign contributor.

At the White House, meanwhile, aides braced for repercussions from videotaped testimony Clinton will give this weekend in the trial of his former partners in the Arkansas land development deal gone bad.

Wright is a woman known for an assertive personality who by her own account was called ``the baroness″ by a top Arkansas official. At times during hours of questioning she used colorful language and scrunched her face in puzzlement.

Wright was Clinton’s chief of staff from 1983 to 1990 and ran his gubernatorial campaigns in 1982, 1984 and 1986. She also was in charge of political ``damage control″ in his 1992 bid for the presidency.

She was queried extensively Thursday about Lasater, the Arkansas investment banker, a figure who has long caused Clinton political problems. The Whitewater panel has examined internal memos from the governor’s office showing that Clinton and his aides kept a close eye on Lasater’s efforts to win state work, including a May 1985 note from Wright to Clinton.

Lasater helped pay off a drug debt for Clinton’s younger brother, Roger.

Wright said Clinton’s office never favored Lasater and the decision was made by the appropriate state agencies. ``We were not involved in the selection of a firm,″ she testified.

Lasater and Roger Clinton became the focus of a drug investigation, and both pleaded guilty to cocaine charges and went to prison.

Wright also derided Republicans’ efforts to link to a campaign fund-raiser a $300,000 state lease for Clinton’s Whitewater partner, James McDougal.

The office space lease was awarded to McDougal in 1986 over the objections of an Arkansas regulator. The committee also had at hand a 1987 memo showing a campaign contributor pressing Clinton to change his mind about legislation affecting small water companies.

Wright insisted that Clinton ``was very concerned and committed to avoiding any″ conflicts of interest or appearance of conflicts. ``It is a preposterous assertion to link the lease and the fund-raiser,″ said Wright.

McDougal got the lease in 1984 and a year later held a fund-raiser for Clinton just days before the lease was expanded to cover more space. At Wednesday’s hearing, a Republican on the Whitewater panel called Clinton’s support for the lease a case of ``influence peddling.″

The decision by state officials to award the lease was based on a desire to help develop a rundown part of Little Rock where the building sat, Wright told the senators.

There was ``an interest in seeing the area developed. It had nothing to do with″ McDougal, she said.

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