Clinton's "Soviet connection"

Salon reports that Peter W. Smith, a Chicago investment banker and conservative fund-raiser, discussed financing a probe of President Clinton's 1969 trip to the former Soviet Union as a college student.

By Murray Waas
Published April 7, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

Peter W. Smith, a conservative political activist and major fund-raiser for House Speaker Newt Gingrich, discussed underwriting an investigative effort during the 1996 presidential campaign to obtain information about a college trip that President Clinton made to the Soviet Union in 1969, Salon has learned.

Conservative critics of President Clinton have long circulated rumors that Clinton might have protested against the Vietnam War during his 1969 trip to the former Soviet Union, or that he even had discussions with Soviet officials. During the 1992 presidential race, then-President George Bush suggested that Clinton might have done something unpatriotic, saying that Clinton should disclose to voters "how many demonstrations he led against his own country from a foreign soil."

During the time that Clinton made the trip to the Soviet Union he was attending Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. No evidence has ever come to light showing that he did anything improper during his Soviet trip.

Smith, a Chicago investment banker, discussed probing Clinton's Soviet trip in a meeting with other conservative activists, sources said. The sources, two of whom participated in the discussions, said that Clinton's trip was only one of a number of issues that Smith thought worthy of investigation.

Other topics that Smith discussed, the sources said, included allegations that Clinton, while governor of Arkansas, ordered state law-enforcement officials to turn a blind eye to a cocaine smuggling ring. Two official investigations of the matter -- by the House Banking Committee and the CIA Inspector General -- have found no wrongdoing by the president.

Smith did not return Salon's telephone calls yesterday.

Last week, the New York Observer revealed that Smith spent at least $80,000 to fund an investigation of the president's sexual conduct, from September 1992 to March 1994. Those efforts were to prove instrumental in the publication of the so-called Arkansas "Troopergate" story.

It was Smith who introduced then-American Spectator reporter David Brock to the troopers, who told salacious stories about Clinton's private life that appeared in the Spectator and the Los Angeles Times in December 1993. Smith also promised two of the troopers high-paying jobs if they were fired for speaking to the press. And in March 1994, he wrote a $20,000 check that was split between two of the troopers and their attorney.

Over the last decade, according to Federal Election Commission records, Smith has made more than $150,000 in contributions to GOPAC, the conservative political committee once chaired by House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Smith has also been a top donor to the Republican National Committee.

Smith was assisted in his efforts to promote the Troopergate story by political consultant Eddie Mahe, a close friend and advisor to House Speaker Gingrich. Mahe has also served as a consultant to GOPAC.

In an interview Monday, Mahe said he received $25,000 in consulting fees from Smith over a two-year period for assisting in the Troopergate effort. He also provided new details about his role in the affair, saying he was paid by Smith to help attract interest in the story by a major news organization.

"I evaluated what they came up with to see if there was any way it could be packaged in a way that the establishment press might be attracted to the story," Mahe said.

Mahe said that he did not recall Smith ever discussing the president's trip to the former Soviet Union.

Now a communications and business consultant, Mahe also said that neither he nor Smith ever discussed their efforts with Gingrich. A spokesperson for the speaker did not return telephone calls Monday.

Conservative political activists said that Smith and Mahe had become close friends through their work with GOPAC, the political action committee then chaired by Gingrich.

Smith's role with GOPAC is also described in internal GOPAC records. In a Nov. 14, 1990, letter, a high-level GOPAC official wrote to Smith about a recent meeting between Smith, his wife and the GOPAC official:

"It was great to have you and Karin with us this past weekend ... Your participation is one of the reasons our operations continue so successfully.

"It is a painful time to be a Republican. I talked with many Charter Members at the meeting who are feeling confused, frustrated, and a bit angry. Newt supposes that we have a one in three chance of gaining control of the House in 1992.

"Protracted conflict is costly and trying. We don't promise it will be easy."

Murray Waas

Murray Waas is a frequent contributor to Salon.

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