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12:00 AM, Oct 13, 1997 • By BYRON YORK
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Romer lost some credibility when the Post reported how the papers had been found. It turns out the documents were not buried beneath reams of paper in some out-of-the-way warehouse; they had been in Sullivan's old office all along. Not only that, they were in a file cabinet -- which just happened to be the only file cabinet in the office. Apparently the DNC had not thought to look there.

Republicans were appalled. But the Post report -- published on August 8 -- did not move the Justice Department to inquire about the truthfulness of Sullivan's testimony; the Thompson committee lawyer says there has been no inquiry concerning Sullivan.

When asked about the Barbour, Fowler, and Sullivan cases, the lawyer says the Justice Department's behavior has been disappointing at best. "I was surprised and a little dismayed," he says, to learn that Justice had been dealing with committee Democrats while showing no interest in evidence gathered by Republicans. "Typically, when someone wants something from the committee, one would assume that one would go to the chairman of the committee." But at least as far as the Thompson committee is concerned, that's not happening. For now, all the Republicans can do is prepare to refer their evidence to Justice -- and hope the department sees fit to use it.

Michael Brown and Nolanda Hill: Then there is the matter of two intimates of Ron Brown, the late commerce secretary -- his son Michael and Nolanda Hill, his business partner and close friend. On August 28, Michael Brown pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge of arranging for $ 4,000 to be illegally contributed to Ted Kennedy's 1994 campaign. The plea was an embarrassment for Brown, but what was much more important -- and largely unreported in the press -- was that in return for Brown's plea to a minor offense, the government agreed to close the book on an investigation into alleged corruption involving Brown and his father.

In 1994, Michael Brown was hired by Eugene and Nora Lum, two Democratic activists and fund-raisers who had bought a small oil and gas company in Oklahoma. Even though Brown had no experience in the business, the Lums paid Brown at least $ 150,000 in "consulting fees," gave him a 5 percent interest in the company (valued at $ 500,000), and showered him with other benefits, including a $ 60,000 membership at the exclusive Robert Trent Jones golf club outside Washington.

Former employees of the company say Brown did not perform any work in return for his lavish compensation. One former top official later testified that the Lums hired Michael Brown "to gain influence with the Department of Commerce, and that's it." Some investigators believe that the Lums actually gave the money to Michael Brown so that he would pass it on to his father. Brown's lawyer, William Taylor III, concedes that "Michael paid some money to his father at a point in time" after the younger Brown began receiving money from the Lums. But Taylor denies that the younger Brown was a conduit for money given to him by the Lums for the purpose of winning favor with the secretary of commerce. If he did, that might well have made Michael Brown part of a scheme to pass illegal gratuities to his father.

None of that matters anymore. When Brown pleaded guilty to the campaign- finance misdemeanor, the Justice Department agreed that it "will not prosecute the defendant for any other conduct by the defendant of which the Public Integrity Section . . . [is] presently aware." (By the way, the prosecutor who gave such generous terms to Brown is the same man who zealously prosecuted fired White House travel-office director Billy Dale.) The Brown case is now closed.

Nolanda Hill is the Texas businesswoman who became Ron Brown's close friend. She formed a company called First International and gave Ron Brown a half- interest. Brown performed no work for the company. When he became commerce secretary and had to give up his lucrative position at the law firm of Patton, Boggs & Blow, First International began to give him so-called partnership distributions. Brown received three checks of $ 45,000 each in the spring, summer, and fall of 1993 -- and accepted a total of more than $ 400,000 from Hill between April 1993 and August 1994.

It was Hill's dealings with Brown that prompted Janet Reno to call for the appointment of an independent counsel in May 1995. When Brown died, the independent counsel transferred the evidence he had gathered to the Justice Department. Eighteen months after Brown's death, a lawyer for Hill says that he has at times gotten the impression that the Justice Department is " stirring around." But so far, nothing has happened.