The Magazine


Mar 10, 1997, Vol. 2, No. 25 • By BRIT HUME
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This was how the now-infamous White House coffees became institutionalized. The president, first lady, and Tipper Gore had each hosted occasional coffees with various groups, usually in the Map Room in the White House basement. These events the president did like. He would arrive, typically about 8:30 a. m., to find a small group composed of potential donors, DNC officials, and others. He would speak briefly and then take questions. It was a perfect forum for Clinton, who likes to talk and likes to listen. They were also an ideal fund-raising vehicle, even if no overt solicitation was done until afterward. "Once the word got out that he was happy to do these," an aide recalls, "the fund-raising folks said, 'Let's pump this up.'" They pumped it up all right. By recent count, the White House held 103 coffees, most of them for cash, in 1995 and 1996. It was at one such coffee that the president met Wang Jun, the Chinese arms merchant, who had come with Charlie Trie, the man who rounded up the $ 649,000 in fishy donations to Clinton's legal defense fund that were subsequently returned.

At one point in early 1996, political aides urged that 27 coffees be added to a Clinton schedule that already included 13 dinners and 11 days of travel over a three-month period. The request is cited in a memorandum from deputy chief of staff Evelyn Lieberman, who said it had "considerable urgency." She proposed granting the request for a provisional two-week period to see how it affected things, including the president's "stamina." "In order to do this," her memo adds, "staff who routinely brief the President will be asked to be flexible during this period and accept that their briefings may be considerably truncated or eliminated." That request presumably included the president's daily intelligence briefing, though White House aides insist that briefing was never affected by the demands of fund-raising.

In his book, Dick Morris claims to have understood those demands. He describes attending a Clinton fund-raiser and standing, as the president had to, while the long line of contributors filed by for their moment with him. " The line never seemed to ease up, much less end. The president," he writes, " went through this agony night after night. I began to see what those ads were going to cost him." Oh, no, he didn't.

Contributing editor Brit Hume is Washington managing editor of the Fox News Channel.