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Ex-Aide Tells of Pressure on Donor's Behalf


WASHINGTON — Her voice full of anger, a former White House National Security Council aide told a Senate investigating committee Wednesday that government officials pressured her to stop being "such a Girl Scout" and withdraw her strong opposition to a major Democratic donor's international business project.

In remarks that prompted fierce denials and a barrage of finger-pointing in official Washington, Sheila Heslin offered the most blunt testimony to date about how the White House's quest for campaign contributions interfered with the implementation of foreign policy.

She described how officials with the Energy Department, the CIA and the Democratic National Committee lobbied her to reconsider her strong opposition to an overseas oil project proposed by Democratic donor Roger Tamraz.

Heslin, the White House's oil expert, did not change her position but she said she came under intense pressure to do so. Energy official Jack Carter, she said, bluntly told her that allowing Tamraz to meet with top White House aides, which Heslin opposed, would lead to $400,000 in campaign contributions from Tamraz.

Heslin testified that Carter told her he was calling at the behest of Thomas "Mack" McLarty, a top advisor to President Clinton. He told her, according to Heslin's account, that McLarty and Clinton supported the project, although Heslin said she doubted the phone call would have been necessary if the president had already endorsed the venture.

"He was pressuring me," Heslin said of Carter. "I've never had a conversation like that. . . . He told me that I shouldn't be such a Girl Scout. He was really unpleasant."

In testimony that raised equally troubling questions, Heslin charged that a longtime CIA officer, identified only by his first name "Bob," repeatedly called her on behalf of Tamraz even after another division within the CIA had issued a critical report on the Lebanese American oilman.

Tamraz was seeking support for his plan to build a pipeline that would transport oil from the Caspian basin fields of Azerbaijan through Armenia and Turkey to the Mediterranean. It was never built.

Heslin said that "Bob" supplied her with incorrect information about Tamraz's project, which she considered an effort to scare her into the notion that the venture would go forward without U.S. government support.

Heslin said DNC Chairman Donald L. Fowler also called her on Tamraz's behalf, telling her that "Bob . . . at the CIA" had information that would help overcome her objections to Tamraz's access to the White House.

There were other CIA connections as well. Heslin said Ed Pechous, a former CIA official who worked for Tamraz, repeatedly called her to set up a meeting between Heslin and Tamraz.

William Lofgren, Bob's CIA supervisor who had signed off on one of the favorable reports on Tamraz, went to work for Tamraz as a consultant for several months in 1996. He helped set up a meeting for Tamraz with the president of Azerbaijan who had previously refused to see him, Heslin said.

While Heslin, who left the NSC last November when she had a child, won kudos from senators on both sides of the aisle for her testimony, her version of events was sharply disputed by some of those she mentioned.

Carter, the former senior advisor to then-Deputy Energy Secretary Bill White who will testify today, disputes Heslin's account of the conversation. In a statement released Wednesday, McLarty denied that he had endorsed the project or ever spoken with Carter. He said he looked into the matter and Clinton's request and referred Tamraz's proposal without a recommendation to Energy official Kyle Simpson, who also is expected to testify today.

CIA sources denied that there was any effort by CIA officers to pressure Heslin to lift her objections to Tamraz. Several CIA sources said they believe Heslin grew distrustful of the CIA's clandestine Directorate of Operations and, as a result, misunderstood "Bob's" telephone calls giving her more information on Tamraz as a form of lobbying. CIA sources also said Lofgren did not set up a meeting with the Azerbaijani president for Tamraz but met with the foreign leader himself on Tamraz's behalf.

The White House stressed Wednesday that despite Heslin's claims, the U.S. government never endorsed Tamraz's oil project.

However, by making donations to the DNC, Tamraz was able to enter the White House six times and pitch his project directly to Clinton, even though Heslin had found the project so questionable that she recommended against allowing such a meeting.

Tamraz also used his White House access to create the impression overseas that he had U.S. government support for his project, Heslin said.

As a courtesy to an American businessman, Heslin said she met Tamraz once, after gathering extensive information on his background. She said she learned that some of Tamraz's claims--that he had the support of several major oil companies and had met with top government officials in Armenia and Azerbaijan--had not proved to be correct.

At the brief meeting, Heslin said she grilled Tamraz on his project and left the session with major concerns. Heslin, for instance, said Tamraz told her he was seeking exclusive transportation rights in the region, which was contrary to U.S. policy. "He's an American and he's free to pursue his private business interests," Heslin said of the decision she and her colleagues reached on Tamraz. "But the U.S. government was not able to endorse him in any way."

Tamraz is expected to appear before the committee today. But he held numerous press briefings Wednesday outside the hearing room in which he criticized Heslin for her opposition to his project.

"She doesn't know how the world works," he said. "She's in an ivory tower." Tamraz acknowledged that one reason he gave major contributions to the DNC was to establish himself as a serious player on international issues. But he said he also wanted to rub shoulders with the leader of the free world. "It's a nice ego trip," he said.

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