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Herman Faces Influence-Peddling Inquiry Investigation Of Labor Secretary Well Under Way, Sources Say

The Justice Department is conducting a preliminary inquiry into allegations that Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman, while working as a White House aide, accepted cash for using her influence to help business ventures, government sources said Wednesday.

The inquiry by the department’s Public Integrity Section has been under way for six to eight weeks and is based in part on statements by a Cameroon businessman, Laurent Yene, the sources confirmed.

The 90-day inquiry is due to end next month, at which point Justice Department officials could seek to extend the investigation for 60 days, drop the matter after determining that their investigation failed to produce evidence to substantiate the allegations, or recommend to Attorney General Janet Reno that she seek the appointment of an independent counsel to conduct a full investigation.

Herman and her attorney could not be reached Wednesday night, but White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said: “The president continues to have full faith and confidence in Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman. We are confident the Justice Department will conduct its review of the facts and make its decisions based on the law.” ABC News, which first reported the story, said the alleged influence sale took place from 1994 to 1996 while Herman headed the White House Office of Public Liaison.

Yene told ABC’s “World News Tonight” that he once delivered an envelope containing cash to Herman at her home. He said he provided investigators with bank documents supporting his claim that Herman received 10 percent of the consulting fees given him by a client who needed help in obtaining a Federal Communications Commission license for a satellite phone system.

Previous published reports outlined Yene’s general allegations of influence-peddling by Herman. Yene apparently had a falling out with Vanessa Weaver, a longtime Herman friend who purchased Herman’s consulting firm in 1993. In May, Herman responded to Yene’s charges: “I have never been a party to anyone’s effort to exploit their relationship with me for profit or to take advantage of my position in the White House.”

Herman becomes the latest in a series of current and former Clinton administration officials whose actions while in office or before they were confirmed for the Cabinet have come under scrutiny.

Herman was confirmed for the post of labor secretary in March, after battling skeptical GOP senators for four months. Senators focused on her involvement with a White House fund-raising coffee and her private business dealings.