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Accounts Shift On Discussion Of Questionable Gifts To Clinton

The White House Sunday gave shifting accounts of a meeting at which senior Clinton aides and officials of President Clinton’s legal defense fund discussed the return of several hundred thousand dollars in questionable donations.

A White House official first said some top aides urged that some of the money be kept, then backtracked from that description in two subsequent conversations.

The May 9 meeting took place after a Little Rock, Ark., businessman, Charles Yah Lin Trie, delivered two manila envelopes full of checks and money orders to Michael H. Cardozo, executive director of the Presidential Legal Expense Trust, the fund set up to help the Clintons pay their mounting legal bills, which now exceed $2 million.

Cardozo rejected outright about $70,000 of the money Trie brought in because it didn’t comply with fund rules, then launched an investigation into the remaining amount: $378,300. That investigation showed that some of the money came in the form of sequentially numbered money orders, purportedly from different individuals in different cities, but all filled out in the same handwriting. Some of the money was also linked to a controversial religious sect.

At the May 9 meeting, Cardozo and other fund officials discussed the handling of the remaining $378,300 in questionable donations with senior White House officials: White House counsel Jack Quinn; deputy counsel Bruce Lindsey; deputy chiefs of staff Harold Ickes and Evelyn Lieberman; Maggie Williams, chief of staff for first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton; and White House lawyer Cheryl Mills. The meeting was first reported by the Associated Press.

A White House official, who was not present at the session but who is authorized to speak for the White House, at first said that there was a “debate” at the meeting, with some of the top officials questioning whether, given the Clintons’ precarious financial situation, all the money needed to be returned.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that some of the aides suggested keeping the checks that appeared to be legitimate - those written on actual checking accounts by donors who seemed to have the necessary funds.

In a second conversation, after checking again with one of those at the meeting, the official gave a slightly different version of events, saying that no one at the White House urged keeping the funds but that aides were simply “raising questions” about why some of the checks should be returned if they appeared legitimate.

In a third conversation, after checking again with the meeting participant, the official said he had misunderstood the nature of the discussion and that in fact the questions were not about whether to keep some of the questionable funds but how to explain to donors why the money was being returned.