Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman was cleared yesterday by an independent counsel after a two-year investigation into accusations she solicited $250,000 in illegal campaign contributions.
In a one-sentence statement, independent counsel Ralph I. Lancaster Jr. said he had completed his probe and decided not to seek an indictment against Mrs. Herman.
“I am gratified personally and for my family that the independent counsel has terminated his investigation,” Mrs. Herman said.
President Clinton, who has supported his Labor Department secretary since the investigation began, said Mrs. Herman “did not deserve what she’s had to endure over the past many months.” He was questioned in September at the White House by Mr. Lancaster in an interview that lasted an hour and was conducted under oath.
“As I said at the start of this inquiry nearly two years ago, Secretary Herman did nothing wrong. But throughout it all, she was never deterred from her mission making life better for America’s working families,” he said.
The Lancaster probe, conducted without public comment and under a virtual media blackout, focused on accusations by a Cameroon businessman that Mrs. Herman solicited $250,000 in illegal campaign contributions when she worked as an assistant to the president and head of the White House Public Liaison Office.
The businessman, Laurent Yene, told the Justice Department in 1998 that Mrs. Herman solicited the donations and demanded a kickback in 1994 to help a friend obtain a Federal Communications Commission license for a satellite telephone system.
Mr. Yene told investigators that he, Mrs. Herman and a friend, Vanessa Weaver, conspired to use Mrs. Herman’s White House post to further the scheme and that Mrs. Herman was to get 10 percent of the consulting fees. He said the deal included an effort by a Washington telecommunications company, Mobile Communications Holdings Inc., to get a license from the FCC and that the license was granted after FCC regulators waived financial-backing regulations.
During the lobbying effort, Mobile Communications Holdings contributed $20,000 to the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Attorney General Janet Reno asked for an independent counsel on May 11, 1998, after a five-month preliminary probe.
From hundreds of interviews and a review of bank records and other documents, investigators “uncovered financial transactions potentially corroborative of Yene’s allegations, which require further investigation,” Miss Reno said in seeking the appointment of an independent counsel.
“While I cannot conclusively determine … that Yene’s allegations are credible, much of the detail of the story he has told has been corroborated, though none of it clearly inculpates Herman,” Miss Reno told the panel in an eight-page letter.
Mr. Yene also told investigators that Mrs. Herman directed Miss Weaver to solicit campaign donations for the DNC including cash from a foreign national barred from contributing to U.S. campaigns.
Mrs. Herman has steadfastly denied the accusations and said she was “very disappointed and extremely baffled” by Miss Reno’s decision to seek outside counsel. She told reporters after the accusations surfaced that they were “false from the very beginning.”
Mr. Yene is Miss Weaver’s former boyfriend and a business associate of Mrs. Herman’s. He purchased Mrs. Herman’s consultancy business when she was named to her White House post in 1993. Miss Weaver sued Mr. Yene in July 1998, accusing him of misappropriating company funds. Her attorney, Jeffrey Fried, said at the time that Mr. Yene boasted he would do “whatever it takes” to destroy Miss Weaver and Mrs. Herman.
Mr. Lancaster’s lone indictment in the probe was against Singapore businessman Abdul Rahman, who was accused of making $200,000 in illegal contributions to the Democratic Party. But Mr. Rahman does not live in the United States, and it appears unlikely he will be brought back to this country to stand trial.