Former Commerce Department official John Huang has told federal investigators that White House aide Harold Ickes called him at his government office in 1995 and asked him to
"round up" donations for the congressional campaign of Jesse Jackson Jr., legal sources say.
Federal law prohibits government employees such as Ickes, who since has left the White House and now advises Hillary Rodham
Clinton's prospective Senate campaign, from soliciting campaign donations from subordinates. It is a felony punishable by up to
three years in prison.
The Justice Department conducted an initial inquiry into Huang's allegations but concluded there was no need to seek an independent
counsel to investigate Ickes, according to legal sources familiar with Huang's testimony.
Huang told the investigators he donated $1,000 to Jackson and raised an additional $6,000 to satisfy Ickes' request, the sources told The Associated Press, speaking only on condition of anonymity.
At the time of Ickes' alleged call, the White House was closely watching the plans of Jackson's father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who
was weighing a possible challenge to President Clinton as an independent presidential candidate. Ickes had worked in the elder Jackson's 1988 presidential campaign.
Jesse Jackson Jr., now a congressman from Illinois, said Wednesday the FBI interviewed him about three months ago.
"I did not talk to Mr. Ickes during my campaign about fund raising, about raising any money for our efforts and I indicated this to the FBI," Jackson said.
His father, asked whether he had ever talked to the White House about supporting his son's campaign, said, "No. I have no knowledge of that, no recollection of that at all."
The elder Jackson said he had spoken frequently to Ickes in 1995, but "Harold did not do a fund raiser for us" and "to my knowledge" did nothing else. "The only time the administration was involved was when Vice President Gore came out" to Chicago on
the eve of young Jackson's election victory, he said.
Ickes, a White deputy chief of staff and architect of Clinton's 1996 re-election, steadfastly has denied breaking any fund-raising laws. Ickes and his lawyers, Robert Bennett and Amy Sabrin, did not return calls this week to their offices seeking comment.
Huang's lawyer, Ty Cobb, declined comment.
The GOP-led House Government Reform Committee, which is investigating fund raising in the 1996 campaign, will consider
Thursday whether to grant Huang immunity from prosecution.
That would free the fund-raiser to tell his story in public at a time when Mrs. Clinton is gearing up for a likely New York Senate
campaign. Ickes is a key strategist.
Justice officials said the department would not consider Huang a "subordinate" of Ickes under the law even though Huang was a
presidential appointee. The officials said Huang's assertion that Ickes asked him to raise money rather than give his own money would
not be regarded by prosecutors as a solicitation under the law.
But a legal expert said Ickes' alleged conduct is "so close to the line that certainly it's not what officials should be doing."
"If it doesn't violate the letter of the law, it certainly violates the spirit," Georgetown University law professor Paul Rothstein said.
According to the legal sources, Huang told Justice last winter that Ickes called him at his government office and set up an Oct. 2, 1995, job interview at the White House. Ickes said he was trying to "round up people" to support Jackson and asked Huang to raise $10,000 to $15,000 for Jackson from Asian-Americans, the sources said.
Huang told investigators he believed it was wrong for him to solicit donations under laws regulating federal workers' political
activities. But he told Ickes he would try to help. Huang said he left a voice mail message for Ickes that the money had been raised and then took the donations to Jackson's campaign office. Huang told Justice the two never discussed the matter again, and Ickes never gave any indication anything was improper, the sources added.
At the time, Huang was a deputy assistant secretary at the Commerce Department but was seeking Ickes' help to land a job with the Democratic Party for the 1996 election. Huang became a key fund-raiser for the party in the Asian-American community, a job that landed him in hot water.
Huang has been sentenced to probation on charges he conspired to violate federal fund-raising laws.
A brash New Yorker and loyal Clinton defender, Ickes is no stranger to controversy.
Attorney General Janet Reno rejected an independent counsel investigation into allegations that Ickes lied to a Senate
committee about Clinton administration efforts on behalf of the Teamsters union in a 1995 strike.
Ickes also came in for scrutiny in an independent counsel inquiry into Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt regarding an Indian
casino controversy and campaign donations. That investigation ended this month with no charges.
Ickes testified to Congress that, at the president's request, he called Huang and met with him Oct. 2, 1995, about going to work at
the Democratic National Committee, where Huang's activities eventually triggered the fund-raising controversy.
"I'm not even sure that I knew John Huang was at the Commerce Department, although I may have," Ickes told the Senate. "The
president asked me to follow up on it ... and I called him and had a meeting with him, and he subsequently left the Commerce
Department and went over to work at the DNC."