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Star Ethics in Government Star

Thursday, February 12, 1998

Justice Department Requests Prosecutor
In Babbit Perjury Investigation

William Heartstone, Daily Republican Staff Writer

WASHINGTON DESK - Clinton administration Interior secretary Bruce Babbitt appears to have lied to Congress about whether the White House pressured him to favor Democratic campaign contributors in his handling of a proposed Indian gambling casino in Wisconsin.

The casino decision may have been the 'quid-pro-quo' for political contributions to the Clinton-Gore Campaign, but that matter is not under direct scrutiny in the current Justice Department request for a special prosecutor. Instead, the independent prosecutor will apparently only focus on perjury and the truthfulness of statements made by Babbitt to lawmakers about the permit decision.

Lobbyist Paul Eckstein, a former law school classmate and law partner of Babbitt, who was hired by an Indian tribe in an effort to win approval of the permit on the site of a failed dog track in Wisconsin. Eckstein also said Babbitt commented that tribes opposed to the casino had contributed approximately $500,000 to the Democratic National Committee or other Democratic interests.

Eckstein says that on the day the permit was denied, Babbitt told him that White House then-deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes had ordered a quick resolution of the case. Babbitt first denied to a senator that he ever made the statement.

Then, after apparently hearing from the White House, he modified his statement to say that 'if'he had mentioned Ickes' name, that was only as a kind of 'closing comment' to excuse himself from the meeting with Eckstein.

Finally, after apparently receiving further White House counsel, Babbitt now says he does not recall ever making the comments about campaign contributions, in the first place.

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