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CLINTON DEFENDS CAMPAIGN FUND-RAISING AS `APPROPRIATE'.

Byline: James Bennet The New York Times

Bombarded with Republican calls for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Democratic campaign finances, President Clinton said Wednesday that there was no ``legal issue'' raised by newly released White House documents detailing his involvement in soliciting money.

``I've answered the questions about that,'' Clinton said.

The president emphatically defended his campaign finance practices, saying that boarding contributors overnight at the White House was ``entirely appropriate'' and that officials never asked for political donations at White House events.

But Clinton stopped short of saying that fund-raisers never asked for donations in exchange for invitations to attend such events.

``Did the people hope that the folks who came to the events would subsequently support me?'' the president asked. ``Yes, they did. And I think that was clear to everyone involved at the time. But there was no solicitation at the White House, and the guidelines made clear that there was to be no price tag on the events.''

Asked if Attorney General Janet Reno should appoint an independent counsel to look into Democratic finance practices, Clinton declined to comment, saying the decision should be made ``strictly on the law.'' But, referring to the finance documents that the White House made public Tuesday, he immediately added, ``I've answered the questions about that, and I don't think there's a legal issue there.''

Mike McCurry, White House spokesman, later argued that the president was not suggesting that an independent counsel was unnecessary, but that the newly released documents showed no wrongdoing. ``He was making the simple point that there was no solicitation at the events,'' McCurry said.

The tug-of-war over independent counsels has been a theme of Clinton's strained relationship with his attorney general.

Last fall, with Reno's reappointment in doubt, she began the process of considering the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the early reports of campaign finance irregularities, in response to requests from Republican members of Congress. But she later said there was not enough evidence to act.

In testimony on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Reno said she had ``not received evidence that under the law would justify the appointment of an independent counsel.'' But she added that a continuing Justice Department investigation might still turn up evidence that would justify one.

The documents made public Tuesday showed that the president was closely involved in setting the campaign fund-raising strategy for the Democratic National Committee, revising solicitation plans and deciding to invite contributors as his overnight guests at the White House.

Clinton said Wednesday that, based on legal advice, the Democratic National Committee laid down strict guidelines to prevent any illegal fund raising at political events in the White House.

He said twice that ``there was to be no price tag on the events,'' a formulation that left open the possibility that in practice such tags were applied before or after contributors visited the White House.

Several Democratic contributors and fund-raisers have said that fund-raisers indicated that big contributors could attend coffees with Clinton, usually by donating $50,000. Such solicitations might not be illegal, but they would violate Democratic Party rules.

Clinton said that ``almost seven-eighths'' of the overnight guests ``are people that I had relationships with that were independent of my campaign for president in '92.''

But he lampooned the notion of banning contributors altogether from the White House. ``I don't think people who support you and help you through tough times and who believe in what you're doing should be disqualified from being the president's guest at the White House,'' he said.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

PHOTO President Clinton tells reporters ``there was no solicitation at the White House,'' at a news conference on campaign financing Wednesday.

Associated Press
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 27, 1997
Words:619
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