Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes supervised the White House fund-raising machine until he was brutally dumped after the president's re-election. Now Ickes has handed over his files to congressional investigators, revealing the president's price tag and showing that the ultimate Clinton loyalist is a very angry man


Sepetember 1997

Young Harold "is a quiet baby," the late Harold LeClair Ickes, Franklin Roosevelt's secretary of the interior, once wrote approvingly of his son. "Apparently he is not going to develop into a person who wears his heart on his sleeve."The senior Ickes, famously hard-bitten, was prescient about his son, and he knew his town. Washington is full of guys who hide their hearts or lose them in the service of the powerful. Harold Ickes, Clinton's White House warrior, was somewhere between the two. He was an old-school liberal with unbending beliefs. Until recently, he never lost sight of them.

The newest chapter in the tale of Ickes the Younger begins with Mr. William R. Morgan of Richardson, Texas, a mysterious character whose stories don't always quite add up. Morgan, who wears blue jeans and $4,000 handmade alligator boots, says he has amassed a considerable fortune in real estate and through; the selling of old bonds. Like so many men of his type, he apparently believes in the value of friends in high places. To him, the Democratic and Republican Parties are "money machines." He has a broad, unnuanced view of how Washington operates.

Morgan's dialogue sounds as inflated as his income. "You can add a few more multis to that," he advises when asked if he can accurately be described as a multimillionaire. On other subjects, he is equally colorful.

Last October, Morgan found himself facing an enviable situation. A bond deal he was closing could, he anticipated, leave him as much as $300 million richer. His worry, premature as it turns out, was taxes.

"I had a heck of a tax problem," he says proudly. "So what would you do? You'd do what I did. What any good American would do." By which the Texan means that he decided to make a huge tax-deductible contribution, a $55 million write-off. And he wanted to lay that money where he thought it would do him the most good - on the steps of the Clinton White House. In return, Morgan wanted access to the members of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve System, who he believes regulate some of his bond transactions. "Now do you see why I was interested in trying to help the current White House out? Who do you think appoints the governors of the Federal Reserve?"

"The president of the United States," I say.

"I think you're right," says Bill Morgan. "I wanted to meet some of these Federal Reserve people. That was my motivation, pure and simple." Later he adds, "Why not try to endear yourself to the parties involved?

"It's a marvelous thing to be able to pick where your tax dollars go." That's what Bill Morgan believes. But on at least one point, he is confused. Two experts, including one at the Fed, say it has little or no influence over the kind of specialty bonds that Morgan was trying to sell. On other matters, as we will see, Morgan is better informed

At the time of Morgan's entry onto the scene, Harold Ickes was President Clinton's controversial deputy chief of staff. An old-school Wasp, he wore rumpled shirts and cheap suits and although he controlled the flow of huge sums, had never cared much about personal financial gain.

He was flinty and notoriously crude, but he had remained impassioned, an idealist. By the time Ickes got wind of Morgan's generosity, he had weathered three years of fastidious, but often disastrous, service to the president. With in the White House he was admired, loathed, lusted after, denounced, and feared. That was the way he liked it. But now he was also tired. Ickes had been beleaguered by the administration's troubles and his battles with his rival, master strategist Dick Morris, who had shifted Clinton toward the right and toward re-election. Now Morris was vanquished, and Ickes expected to be named chief of staff. No one doubted his loyalty. He seemed to truly believe in Bill Clinton, or at least in his political skills. "Harold made a fatal mistake with Bill Clinton-he fell in love with him," says a friend who watched it all.

THE FACE OF OPTIMISM: Texan William Morgan was looking for a tax write-off on income that hadn't come through yet. He thought the White House could help.

"I wanted to meet some of these Federal Reserve people," say Bill Morgan. "Why not try to endear yourself? It's a marvelous thing to be able to pick where your tax dollars go."

The decline of Ickes began just days before the presidential election. On the night of October 22, 1996, at a campaign fund-raising dinner in Miami, the president was approached by a man he had never heard of, R. Warren Meddoff, a colleague of Morgan's. "My associate has $5 million he is prepared to donate to your campaign," Meddoff had written on a business card he handed to Bill Clinton. The president was far from affronted, according to Meddoff. "Let me have another one of those cards for my staff," he requested.

It was apparently Ickes that Clinton had in mind. Meddoff says that in the days that followed the Miami contact he made repeated calls to Ickes in his White House office about the proposed contribution. "Ickes and I spoke between 10 and 20 times, and some of those calls lasted maybe 10 to 15 minutes," Meddoff explains from his Florida home.

"The reality is that this $5 million donation was just the first installment of what we had to offer," says Meddoff.

Ickes' own meticulous notes verify the fact that the two men were discussing a contribution of $55 million, the amount Morgan needed to write off. "Even more than Liggett & Myers gives," boasts Morgan, referring to the embattled tobacco company. In fact, in its entire history, the Democratic National Committee has never received a single gift as large as $5 milllion - much less 10 times that amount.

The problem was that contributions made to the obviously partisan D.N.C. are not tax-deductible. And Morgan wasn't willing to sacrifice his tax write-off even if it earned him presidential favor. "I told Meddoff I don't give a flip about the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. I couldn't give a flip about Ickes. All I care about is getting a tax deduction, as any good citizen should." He stops. "My goal is Bill Morgan, and Bill Morgan had a tax problem."

Meddoff says he explained to Ickes "the concerns of Mr. Morgan for a tax-favorable basis." After two days, the easy tempo of the talks grew more animated. "Ickes suddenly said he had immediate needs for money," says Meddoff. "That the Democratic campaign had immediate needs in Texas. It was incredible, the rush they demanded. Harold's the one who kept hitting the button. He said, 'We need it now, now, now!"'

Ickes had gone into overdrive.

On the morning of October 31, Meddoff received a fax sent by Ickes from the White House. The three-page missive began: "If possible, it would be greatly appreciated if the following amounts can be wired to the designated banks." Included was a list provided by Ickes of five bank accounts-complete with their numbers into which, it was suggested, more than a million dollars of Morgan's money should be transferred.

Two D.N.C. bank accounts were among those listed. The others belonged to liberal, but not openly partisan, political groups to which contributions are tax-deductible. One of the organizations, Vote Now '96, was a group closely tied to the White House; its mandate was to get out the minority vote. Gary A. Barron, its executive director, was deputy treasurer of the D.N.C. for three years under the late Ron Brown, who served as Clinton's secretary of commerce during the president's first term.

Meddoff promptly sent a copy of the fax to Morgan.

Within hours of sending that fax, Ickes seems to have realized that he made a major error. A seasoned attorney, he ought to have been aware that a top White House official should not be counseling citizens on tax breaks or how to circumnavigate laws governing campaign contributions. He would also receive word from Donald Fowler, who then headed the D.N.C., that the millions would not be accepted by his organization. Fowler and another top D.N.C. official had talked to Meddoff and attempted, unsuccessfully, to investigate their would-be benefactors. "I don't think any of us trusted Meddoff," says a knowledgeable source. "No one knew who he was." At the time, the D.N.C. was under attack for some of its fund-raising practices. Certain officials wondered if they were being set up.

"Five hours later [after the original transmission], Ickes calls, tells me I should shred the memorandum," says Meddoff. He recalls that the deputy chief of staff's voice was low and carefully modulated. Meddoff says that he greeted the suggestion to shred with sarcasm. "Right, Harold. I'm going right over to my shredder and destroy it right now. He believed me! He said, 'Fine."'

Ickes has claimed that he never ordered the document destroyed, but Morgan reports that Meddoff told him of the shredding order within "30 minutes." Morgan knew that trouble was brewing. He worried that a law had been broken. "If I shredded, I would be an accessory after the fact."

"Well, Warren, we know what we gotta do now," said Morgan.

"Right! We put that fax in our files," replied Meddoff.

"I remember the Watergate hearings," Meddoff says now.

"I remember Iran-contra. Let me put it to you this way After that conversation with Ickes, I thought I'd just witnessed someone taping the door to the D.N.C."

In the meantime, Morgan was still waiting for payment on his bond sale. In an attempt to push the deal through, he faxed Ickes' memo to the prospective buyers of his bonds. "Look," he told them in an effort to expedite a first payment, "I got the White House calling." Later he adds, "If Ickes could have just made one phone call to the Federal Reserve, saying, 'What can we do to help?,' that would have made the deal."


The memo at the heart of the controversy was sent by Ickes via a White House fax on October 31, 1996. It listed the bank accounts of four organizations among which William Morgan was to distribute the first installment of his contribution. A congressional committee is now investigating the activities of at least one of the organizations, Vote Now' 96.

Because of Harold Ickes' fax, the Office of Special Counsel is now investigating the former deputy chief Of staff's possible violation of the Hatch Act, which forbids federal officials on government premises to solicit money. A criminal violation is punishable by up to three years in prison.

In March, both Meddoff and Morgan testified about Ickes' actions before a grand jury convened by the Justice Department. Two legislative-committee chairmen, Representative Dan Burton and Senator Fred Thompson, are currently reviewing Ickes' files. The Thompson committee is even interested in the operative's pre-White House past. And Vote Now '96, its charitable status impugned, has recently had its files subpoenaed by the Justice Department. When asked whether the committee is investigating activities of Vote Now '96, a knowledgeable Senate-committee source replies, "We're looking into that."

Last February, when the story of the fax broke, Harold Ickes' reaction was characteristic-profane and regretful. Speaking to a reporter from the Los Angeles Times, he mocked the media's disingenuous attitude toward the realities of fund-raising. He claimed that as far back as 1968, when he worked for Eugene McCarthy's failed presidential campaign, he "handed out money, large sums of money, on Election Day. It was never reported. Now you got to report everything."

What money did Ickes hand out in '68? I ask Barbara Handman, a former McCarthy fund-raiser and veteran New York Democrat. Handman also happens to be Ickes' mother-in-law. There is a moment of silence. "I have no idea who Harold was handing out money to on Election Day," she finally replies. "I have no idea."

"There's some large Greek thing going on l now," she adds. "Because Harold, to me, he has a kind of honesty. And large principles which are inflexible. And for him to be buffeted about by these little pygmies-who aren't a tenth of what he is! Harold is someone who is so pure, so outside the language and knowledge and recognition of everybody else." Another pause. "Tough and sharp. But pure."

In 1994, when Ickes returned to Washington, the city of his childhood, it was with few illusions. "It's a hard city that is to a great extent mesmerized with status and power," he told me then. "If you have it, it's one thing; if you don't, you're in a different league."

He had status and power then, but they had been a long time coming. A volatile legend in New York politics, Ickes had spent years in the outfield, building his reputation for unassailable, brutal force. Having served as counsel during then New York mayor David Dinkins's campaign, Ickes was summoned to testify in 1990 when there was a question of whether a stock transfer Dinkins had made to his son had been backdated. Ickes' testimony was such a source of controversy that, according to one tabloid account, the Brooklyn U.S. attorney had considered charging him with perjury. Ickes had stood firm, invoking attorney-client privilege, putting himself in the line of fire for the sake of his candidate. (Ickes has insisted that he cooperated fully with the grand jury.)

At the time of Ickes' arrival in the capital city that tenacity looked appealing. Whitewater and its attendant scandals were earning increasing attention, and the First Couple's controversial health care-reform package needed shepherding on Capitol Hill. Ickes, who knew little of Arkansas or real estate and whose ideaof health care was equally limited, was a pro who could take the heat.

He was, briefly, the man his father intended him to become. Staffers marveled at his skimpy trouser legs, which rode high over the single pair of shoes he owned. ("I only have one pair of feet," he would reflect.) "In a world which sometimes seems to put a premium on cool operatives, Harold was the opposite, and I really respected that," recalls Roger Altman, then a top Treasury aide. George Stephanopoulos and Dee Dee Myers, both now departed from the administration, also found him a welcome addition, a sign that control would imminently be imposed.

Ickes started in high gear; even by White House standards his workhours were all-consuming, extending through late nights and too many weekends. His office nourishment (peanut butter smeared on Ritz crackers) was unvarying. His skin quickly took on the pallor of long-term prisoners.

His daughter, Charlotte, only eight years old then, had been so unhappy at the prospect of moving to Washington that she had begged her father to "call Bill and tell him you're not taking the job." His wife, Laura Handman, an attorney specializing in First Amendment issues, who has represented Vanity Fair among others, felt out of place after the move. Once in Washington she realized, as her mother says, "If you're not part of the company, you're out of it." She was often alone.

The couple shared similar pedigrees, and were linked politically, if not always temperamentally. They had met when Laura was around 29 at one of Barbara Handman's dinner parties, where Manhattan liberals mingle with themselves. Laura hoped to become a federal judge, like her friend Kimba Wood.

Ickes was a labor lawyer at the time, a reserved stalk of a man with a high strung air of expectancy. He was unnerved when his girlfriend insisted on becoming a bride. But he told friends that, at the age of 44, he was "tired of fucking around." The wedding was held, fittingly, in the New York town house that had once been the home of F.D.R., his formidable mother, and Eleanor. Within two years, Laura was pregnant with Charlotte. It was her sister who accompanied her to Lamaze classes.

At the White House, Ickes was attended by Janice Enright, who had worked for him for years in his Long Island law firm. She could handle Ickes, and he took some handling. Former C.I.A. director John Deutch, then serving as an undersecretary of defense, remembers trying to approach Ickes. "I used to admire you at Sidwell," he told Clinton's powerful aide, reminding him that the two had attended the same private school as teenagers. "I don't have time to chat with people I knew at Sidwell!" Ickes snapped.

"I didn't think it was funny at the time," says Deutch, "but Harold has mental discipline, and I admire that."

A political insider says, "I think Harold's relationship with people is not one where he tries to get along with them -unless they are above him." Clinton, obviously, qualified. He swiftly became the focus of Ickes' life. There was more at work here than raw opportunism. "Of all the political figures I've worked with and for, he's one of the most extraordinary," Ickes told me seven months after coming to Washington. "In terms of his political instincts, the breadth of his mind, and his intellectual curiosity, I can't think of another who combines all those skills in the magnitude he does."

Old Manhattan friends who recalled Ickes' dedication to less conservative Democrats such as Jesse Jackson and Ted Kennedy were amazed, even unnerved, by the depth of his conversion. Labor leader Victor Gotbaum, like many wary liberal Democrats, was among them. He asked the question: "Harold, is Clinton really one of us?"

Ickes replied, "Look around. Who is?"

In fact, Ickes knew that Clinton was not a traditional liberal. But he was dazzled by the Arkansas governor's political skills. They had first encountered each other during the anti-war days. The relationship deepened through Hillary Clinton, who was close to Manhattan attorney Susan Thomases, Ickes' old live-in girlfriend, with whom he remains on affectionate terms.

"Harold's made an industry of turning lovers into best friends," one friend explains.

Sooner or later Ickes' rage will destroy him, just like my arrogance in part destroyed me," says Dick Morris, Clinton's former political adviser. "He's a man possessed." Morris takes a careful swallow of a soft drink. "You ask what Ickes was for Clinton - I think Clinton has a very virtuous self-image. He feels himself to be a very good person.... I think Clinton took everything bad about him and put it in one place: Harold.

"Whenever there was anything that he thought required ruthlessness or vengeance or sharp elbows and sharp knees or, frankly, skulduggery he would give it to Harold." Morris insists upon that word. "Skulduggery. It's not my place to be throwing accusations around. I'm not going to amplify that."

A waning light falls in Morris's Manhattan apartment, which is dominated by a variety of bristling greens, chartreuse nudging leaf and mint. Morris's mirthless smile is reflected in a cut-glass mirror shaped like a heart.

Clinton's Svengali, the man who replaced Harold Ickes as the president's man, succeeded where Harold Ickes failed, tilting the presidential profile toward a more marketable centrist position. But, like Ickes, Morris is also in exile, manacled now by scandal and derision.

To this day, Morris believes that Ickes-vengeful and desperate after Morris sandbagged both his status in the White House and Clinton's liberal ideology - leaked to the media the news that Morris had fathered a prostitute's illegitimate child. Morris says he learned this from a Washington Post reporter, a source he trusts. The war between the battling Ickes and Morris split apart the Executive Mansion.

"I think Morris thinks Harold is a prick," says a White House staffer, neatly summarizing the relationship.

"I want all of this on the record," Morris says. "Harold, when I got there, ran a reign of terror in the White House.

He controlled everything and was constantly working at moving his people in and everybody else out. And he had many White House staffers absolutely terrified.

"And he had three assignments from the president: manage Whitewater, manage health care, and get a Democratic Congress re-elected. He was not successful at any of those. So my arrival was, of course, a very direct repudiation of him and that level of control."

By 1995, Morris had muscled into Ickes turf, grabbing a fair portion of the re-election effort and, some would say, a large chunk of Clinton's soul. Morris took charge of the media, the message, and Clinton's attitude adjustment. Ickes got the Bill and Hillary schedule, the black-tie dinners and donors, the D.N.C., and the money, which became his obsession, his road back.

Ickes' papers, 2,400 pages which he placed in the hands of an investigating congressional committee, seem to confirm the administration's maniacal attension to the fiscal: Coffees with the president: $400,000. First Lady's latest task: help raise $5 million. Al Gore's duties: raise $10 million.

"Remember, Harold did go from thinking he was running the world to finding out he was just running the trains," explains a campaign insider. Ickes, this man says, was admirably suited to the task. "The president recognized that Dick was brilliant and Harold is cruel. He knew Dick was like the tide, had to be controlled. So Harold's role was to torture Dick. Oh, Harold would complain about Morris spending too much on the media campaign; he'd bird-dog the buys. Anyone running a campaign does that, but he enjoyed the cruel part."

Dick Morris elaborates: "Two of my colleagues were negotiating with Harold on our compensation for the campaign, and he was so furious over a relatively minor disagreement that he slammed the door so hard that workmen had to come in and repair it. Not just the door, but the frame itself. It splintered."

These rages grew legendary. Once when Ickes lit into D.N.C. chairman Donald Fowler over campaign expenditures, his language was so abusive that Fowler, an old friend until that moment, stalked out of the Map Room. He returned five minutes later. ("See, that was Fowler's big mistake," a Democratic operative tells me with a chuckle. "You don't walk back into the room. Then Harold knows he's got you!")

Behind Ickes' anger, there was disappointment over his diminished power. There he was, a sprint away from the Oval Office, but Morris was outgunning him. This became apparent in the fall of 1995 when, in a well-attended strategy meeting, Morris demanded an early. three-month run of commercials that would cost the Democrats $10 million.

A total waste!" snapped Ickes. "No one will remember them by the election."

"I think this is important," said Al Gore, who didn't have much use for Ickes. The commercials ran.

"Harold's never been a big-picture person," explains one insider. "And the Big Guy understood that. So Harold became the traffic cop."

More than anything, the Ickes files contradict Clinton's insistence that his White House has remained far removed from cash concerns. Donations of more than $600,000 from the Chinese exporter Charles Yah Lin Trie (now abroad) to Clinton's defense fund had to be returned: "Don't report names if $ are returned," wrote the deputy chief of staff When Stanley Shuman (one of the Clinton guests who slept in the Lincoln Bedroom) had an upcoming birthday, Ickes was asked to wangle a congratulatory phone call out of the president. "I hate to tell you this, but we did this all the time," says Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the re-election campaign.


President Clinton, whose notes on fund-raising memos confirm his fiscal interest, addresses a a group of Asian business leaders in Washington on October 6, 1994.

Within this morass of tiny details and immense sums, certain warning signs were ignored or lost. The mysterious Commerce Department employee John Huang, for instance-the man who turned out to have a knack for raising all those questionable millions - was interviewed, at Clinton's behest, by Ickes in late 1995, and then promptly sent on his way to the D.N.C., where he received the unusual title of finance vice-chairman.

Indeed, it was Ickes who spoke to D.N.C. finance chairman Marvin Rosen about employing Huang-astonishing, when you consider that several months earlier Ickes had reportedly been warned about the eager fund-raiser by White House counsel Jane Sherburne, his good friend. Ickes, who suffers from a famously bad memory, had apparently simply forgotten the caution.

"Who is John Huang?" the deputy chief of staff, a feverish notetaker, scribbled just last October, one year after that fateful interview. "$250,000- last week returned it-Korean company-illegal ... slipped through cracks . . . does he have a job at Lippo?"

All his life, Ickes has managed to undermine his own sizable attainments. Inside the White House, he was at long last a player, admired by some-but so harsh and ill-considered were his outbursts that he also developed a pack of unnecessary enemies. "All the conflict around here comes from one man," Morris recalls Erskine Bowles, a courtly southerner who was Ickes' fellow deputy chief of staff, telling him. But there were reasons behind Ickes' fury, which often remained close to the surface. His job went directly against his very nature:

"See, Harold had the role of enforcer-he delivered a lot of bad news to constituent groups like the unions, and was very effective in that, I admit," reports a campaign insider His other job-controlling the flow of contributions was equally painful: "He didn't like money'' says Terry McAuliffe.

In the span of a year, Ickes had become what another campaign insider calls "the bagman for Dick and the president."

Eventually, he and Morris stopped speaking altogether, and poor Doug Sosnik, White House political director, discovered that he was supposed to be their go-between.

"That was perhaps one of my functions," Sosnik sighs. Inside the White House, the scent of roses drifts in from the garden. We are seated along the gleaming mahogany table of the Roosevelt Room. Behind Sosnik is a small relief of F.D.R., and an early-20th century American bronze: a hunched buffalo, its head lowered, ringed by wolves.

The old curmudgeon," as the late Harold LeClair Ickes was known, was an abrasive politician who was an early supporter of civil rights. He was also the lonely prophet who in the 30s viewed the rise of Nazism with disturbing clarity.

In his private life, he was a devout philanderer, quite unburdened by guilt. "She knew that she was licked," he wrote when his first wife attempted suicide after discovering one of his infidelities. Before that he'd been a troubled youth who had once seriously contemplated shooting his own hard-drinking father.

At the age of 64, after his first wife died in a car accident, he wed beautiful Jane Dahlman. The couple lived happily on a farm in Olney, Maryland. Young Harold arrived a year later. The son grew up worshiping his red-haired mother, whom he called "Maw" or "Jane."

About his father, who died when Harold was 12, Ickes was always more ambivalent. "I didn't see much of him during the week," he told me. "I do not have vivid memories of my father. It's my understanding-I'd have to check his biography that he had patented a dahlia. And we had a big vegetable garden, at least half an acre. And he insisted that the corn be picked only 15 minutes before we put it into the water."

By the time he left the Sidwell Friends School, young Harold was in full rebellion. To his mother's horror, instead of heading straight to college, he spent three years as a cowboy out West. After graduating from Stanford, he became a civil-rights volunteer.

Driving through the Louisiana countryside in the mid-60s with a few black colleagues, Ickes was stopped by a group of armed whites. Sensing trouble and fearing that his friends might be murdered, he asked them to go get help. In an act of heroism, he faced the aggressors alone. They beat him so badly he ultimately lost a kidney. For many years, Ickes suffered from narcolepsy; he would doze at inopportune times. If he took the prescribed amphetamine, he would remain sleepless long into the night. As the years passed, he became known for ferociousness and language of monumental vulgarity.

By 1972, politics was his life; campaign dates had come to define his existence. Recalling his mother's death, he began, "It was in the middle of the Muskie campaign ... " Jane Ickes passed away unexpectedly, in her sleep. "Lucky for her," he told me. "She'd always feared dying. But it was very hard on those who were left, let me tell you."

One night in spring 1973, Ickes was working late at Herman Badillo's mayoralty-campaign headquarters on West 57th Street. During the course of the evening, the young worker's teeth managed to find their way into the leg of the press secretary, James Vlasto. "One big bite, I can assure you" is how Vlasto described the wound. Ickes was actually brawling with Badillo's campaign manager, and Vlasto, believing "he was going to do serious damage," managed to get in the middle. Armed cops appeared. Only Badillo, a forgiving man with a doomed candidacy, was lighthearted. "Growing up in Puerto Rico, I've seen fights before."

By the late 70s, Ickes was vigorously promoting his quick-draw image. At a liberal-packed Fire Island party, one guest remembers, Ickes was sizzling with rage and, reaching into one of his long cowboy boots, whipped out a knife to illustrate a point.

"Harold said, 'I have a perfect right to carry one of these fucking things around if I want to,"' recalls the witness. "It was like he was demonstrating a new toy," David Alpern, of Newsweek's radio division and another party guest, thought at the time.

"Washington," says Harold Ickes, "is a hard city that is mesmerized with status and power. If you have it, it's one thing; if you don't, you're ia a different league."

Ickes was by then a lawyer at Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein, a Long Island firm with Democratic ties. More important, he was also an expert on the mass of arcane party rules which can make or break a candidacy. By this time his friendship with the brash young Bill Clinton had intensified. Ickes remarked on Clinton's grace as the ambitious governor pumped hands and charmed residents of Little Italy. Here at last was a winning candidate - Ickes' ticket out of the liberal desert, his passport into the very center of things.

Specifically, Ickes brought Clinton the backing of East Coast liberals who had been singularly unimpressed by the southerner. Ickes had worked a long line of local and presidential campaigns, in the process amassing I.O.U.'s from Ted Kennedy, Walter Mondale, Dinkins, Badillo, Jackson. When Ickes took over Clinton's difficult 1992 New York campaign, he dropped his alliances into his new boss's ample lap like so many gold coins.

There was, naturally, every reason to believe that the minute Clinton swept into the Oval Office he would summon Harold Ickes. This did not happen. For eight years Ickes had represented Local 100 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union. In 1992, a civil racketeering suit was filed against the union, which, prosecutors claimed, was controlled by members of John Gotti's Gambino crime family. (This segment of Ickes' career is currently being reviewed by Senate investigators.) Although Ickes and his law firm were never charged with anything, his White House job was on hold. For a year he sat in New York. My life, he was reported to have said, "is over."

When it appeared that Harold Ickes could once again be of use to Bill Clinton and he was reclaimed and brought to Washington, a friend of Ickes' asked her pal a question about the president. "When is he going to make a decision about Bosnia?" she wondered.

"The only time Clinton ever made a quick decision," came the sorrowful reply from the deputy chief of staff, "was about me."

The depth of Harold Ickes' loyalty to Bill Clinton was palpable during the Whitewater hearings when Ickes served as the main White House antagonist to Senator Alfonse D'Amato, the chairman of the banking committee, who led the charge against the president. "Harold approached it with such a bulldog mentality!" says an admiring partisan. "The only one who did; the rest of 'em were sucking up to the committee." To this day, D'Amato believes it was Ickes who was behind the compilation into a book (dutifully passed out to the media) of anti-D'Amato clippings-"The Ethics Sampler," as one White House insider called it.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist. to figure out that D'Amato was an issue and that the strategy we would be smart to adopt would be to discredit D'Amato," an Ickes ally says with a mild shrug. "It was personal."

Last year D'Amato got his own back when his people referred possible perjury charges against Ickes (relating to his Whitewater testimony) to the independent counsel's office. "I think you're taking a real chance with the law," says Michael Chertoff, who led the interrogations, "when you answer a question in a narrow and perhaps unrealistic way."

But among Senate staffers there is a distinct measure of awe when Ickes' name is mentioned. "You had the feeling that most of those Clinton-administration guys who testified may have hidden the facts, obfuscated, even lied maybe-but they were amateurs," says one impressed observer. "Not Harold, though. Harold's a pro. Boy, if looks could kill, his eyes would have ripped you apart."

In the service of Clinton, Ickes abandoned caution, forfeited large sums of money (his Washington attorney is the $475-an-hour Robert Bennett), and helped sell out his own beliefs. In other words, everything that had sustained him throughout his long and difficult career. One top White House aide says, "A lot of what we did in the last several years weren't things Harold would have wanted done. Things like Harold's walking the line on the president's signing the welfare bill." He adds, "Things that may have disgusted him." A long pause. "Harold was a loyal staff guy."


"Harold made a fatal mistake with Bill Clinton," remarks a former White House staffer. "He fell in love with him."

Whenever there was anything that Clinton thought required ruthlessness or vengence or sharp elbows or, frankly, skulduggery - he would give it to Harold," says Dick Morris.

Too loyal, other staffers thought. Among them, according to informed insiders, was George Stephanopoulos. Clinton's departing senior adviser attempted to persuade his friend to follow him through the exit door. Ickes, certain that he was to be promoted to chief of staff, ignored the advice.

"George saw it coming," says a former White House aide. "But Harold wasn't hearing it. I think because there's a part of him always trying to live up to the old man's reputation.... See, one of the things that saves you from a broken heart is understanding who Bill Clinton is and what he might do. One of his weaknesses is he travels light. He's with you as long as he's with you. He really liked Harold but believed that as chief of staff he might become a liability."

Last October, two White House insiders say, Ickes discovered from Chief of Staff Leon Panetta that he was not about to step into his shoes. Then he found out who was: Erskine Bowles. This was conveyed to him on Election Night as Ickes sat watching CNN inside the presidential suite in Little Rock. Three days later, he would learn from The Wall Street Journal that Bowles had made his coming contingent on Ickes' exit. He never thought he'd be looking for a job after January 20, Ickes told a friend, with considerable feeling.

It might have been in Clinton's interest to have kept Ickes close at hand. Several options had been considered earlier. "Once, I mentioned to the president that it would be neat for Harold to become secretary of the interior," recalls Dick Morris, "because I was trying to get Harold out of the White House."

Initially, Clinton seemed intrigued: "I think he'd really enjoy having his father's old job."

But, for Al D'Amato's scourge, an unapologetic liberal who had helped lead a triumphant presidential campaign, a Senate confirmation hearing was out of the question. Equally problematic: those massive campaign contributions from strangers, foreigners, and friends were, by the time of Clinton's victory, under heavy scrutiny. A few weeks before the inauguration, which he dutifully coordinated, Ickes began to pack and label his possessions. He was very angry. Such "callous treatment" as he had received, he told friends, was "unwarranted and undeserved."

Weeks later, when the ousted aide handed over his 2,400 pages of White House notes to congressional investigators, Clinton finally felt Harold's pain. Explicitly detailed, blazing with Clinton's eager scrawl, these documents-which White House aides had no idea he had spirited out of his office-showed voters a president with a price tag.

"How did you feel about handing all this over?" asked a close friend who knew that Ickes was whisking papers out of the White House.

"I felt very comfortable about it," came the reply.

"Harold Ickes is the Inspector Clouseau of fund-raising," snipes William Morgan, the Texan who thought he had tax trouble. "I hope you print that." The Texan is annoyed. His bond deal, his $300 million dream, has completely fallen apart.

When Ickes had needed money, Morgan was expected to produce more than a million dollars from a deal that hadn't yet materialized. And almost half was nondeductible! Even more ludicrous to Morgan: "They wanted me to donate to Defeat Proposition 209 in California." The Texan is still fuming over the idea that he would give money to support a group in favor of affirmative action. "I hate affirmative action," he says. "I didn't like most of those organizations he put on that fax."

Gary Barron, of Vote Now '96, says he can't understand why his name or his group's bank-account number was included in Ickes' fax.

"Harold never told me he was going to do it!" Barron snaps.

There is no immediate end in sight for Harold Ickes' ordeal. He has joined the "other league" he once spoke about, the group without status or power. Last seen coordinating activities for the White House at the G-8 conference in Denver, Ickes, who will have spent an estimated $125,000 in legal expenses before he is through testifying, has reportedly started a lobbying group. "I get the sense he wants to stay in Washington-and that surprised me, too but Harold is not a guy who wants to look like he's driven out of a place," says a close friend.

Bob Bennett's comment about his client is: "When all is said and done, it will be clear Mr. Ickes violated no laws and regulations." But there are deeper levels here than one man's technical guilt or innocence. Much more has been extinguished here than a political career.

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