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Documents Show High-Level Influence Peddling

Politics: Courtship of official illustrates parade of Clinton associates trading in access to power. Those questioned say actions are proper.

January 29, 1997|DAVID WILLMAN and ALAN C. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — One day after being sworn in as a director of the Export-Import Bank of the United States in 1994, Maria L. Haley found herself much in demand with the first of a procession of former associates from Arkansas.

The initial caller was Mark W. Grobmyer, a lawyer, lobbyist and longtime golf partner of President Clinton. In a "Dear Maria" letter, Grobmyer urged Haley to meet with a utility industry executive who wanted help in exporting natural gas technology and hardware to developing countries.

Next came John Huang, who arranged a session with Haley for himself and his boss, James T. Riady, of the Indonesia-based Lippo financial group. Riady is a former resident of Little Rock, Ark., and a friend of Clinton. The Lippo Group was preparing to participate with a U.S. firm in a major energy project in China that was seeking financing from the Eximbank.

Then came C. Joseph Giroir, a former law partner of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Giroir secured a meeting with Haley and an Eximbank staffer on behalf of an Indonesian media executive interested in doing business with U.S. companies.

The parade of Arkansans knocking on Haley's door is another chapter in the saga of those seeking access to the levers of power in the Clinton administration.

Some of the same individuals are ensnarled in the controversy over the Democratic Party's solicitation of questionable and sometimes illegal campaign contributions from foreign individuals and companies.

The courting of Haley was revealed in documents made public late Tuesday by the Eximbank in response to a request filed by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act. The records of meetings, phone calls and correspondence are of interest to members of Congress and federal investigators who are examining whether people associated with the president abused their access or obtained favors improperly.

Contacts by private citizens with government officials, of course, are not illegal, and Grobmyer and others whose activities have come to light have defended them as entirely proper. In most instances the records made available by the Eximbank do not make completely clear what people were seeking from Haley or whether they got what they wanted.

The Export-Import Bank is an obscure federal agency whose job is to help foreign governments and companies finance the purchase of goods and services from U.S. companies. The bank's seven-member board authorized $11.9 billion in direct loans in 1995.

Haley, who had helped organize trade missions to Asia for then-Gov. Clinton, was appointed by the president to the bank's board early in 1994 and sworn in on April 7.

On the very next day, Grobmyer told Haley in a letter that utility executive Mike Baly "is a close friend of Mack McLarty's and worked with him over the years while Mack was at Arkla Gas." Thomas "Mack" McLarty, a lifelong friend of Clinton, was White House chief of staff at the time and was chairman of Arkla before joining the administration.

Neither McLarty nor Grobmyer, who formerly practiced law with Haley's husband, could be reached for comment Tuesday night. Grobmyer wrote to McLarty about the natural gas issue, thanking the presidential aide for agreeing to "serve as a briefer" on Nov. 29, 1995, when Baly and other natural gas industry executives were coming to the White House.

Haley has not responded to repeated requests for an interview.

Grobmyer called on Haley five times in 1994, including once with Baly, president of the American Gas Assn., bank records show. In October, 1994, he brought Thailand's foreign minister to lunch with Haley. That November he was accompanied by Steve Bova, an executive with Alltel, a Little Rock information processing company that had retained Grobmyer. He returned to Haley's office six times in 1995 and twice in 1996.

A note prepared by Eximbank officials said that "none of the [Grobmyer] meetings were deal- or project-specific." It described Haley and Grobmyer as "longtime friends" and said that most of the sessions were brief "drop-ins." An explanation for some of the meetings, however, was blacked out.

Haley met with Huang and Riady on June 23, 1994, for "a courtesy visit" that involved "general conversation," according to the bank documents.

One of the deals considered by the Eximbank early in Haley's tenure was a $1-billion power venture in China, backed by Riady's Lippo Group and a New Orleans-based firm that is the parent of Arkla. The project fell apart in 1995 because of problems with financing and logistics.

In July 1994, less than one month after he and Riady met with Haley, Huang joined the Commerce Department as an appointee of the president.

Riady saw Haley again in September 1994 to discuss an upcoming trade conference in Indonesia and during Clinton's November 1994 trip to Jakarta for the meeting.

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