Labor Secretary Comes Under Scrutiny


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 underway 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 Atty. Gen. 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 in a prepared statement that “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.”

In August, Herman was credited by administration officials and representatives of both sides in the Teamsters strike against United Parcel Service with helping to resolve the dispute.

ABC News, which first reported the story concerning the investigation, 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 federal investigators with bank documents supporting his claim that Herman received 10% of the consulting fees given him by a client who needed help in obtaining a Federal Communications Commission license for a satellite telephone 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 in a statement 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.


Independent counsels were eventually appointed to investigate former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry G. Cisneros; both men served in President Clinton’s first-term Cabinet. Espy has pleaded not guilty to charges of accepting $35,000 in illegal gifts and lying to investigators; his trial is set to begin in March. Cisneros pleaded not guilty last week to charges he conspired to lie to FBI agents about payments he made to a former mistress.

The Justice Department is investigating allegations that Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt rejected a Native American casino project because of Democratic political contributions made by opposing tribes. Officials are expected to announce by Feb. 11 whether they will seek appointment of an independent counsel in the matter.

In addition, Reno has been under intense pressure from congressional Republicans to seek appointment of an outside prosecutor to investigate the fund-raising activities of Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. Thus far she has declined to do so.

And Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr continues to investigate the involvement of Clinton, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, former Justice Department official Webster L. Hubbell and others in a wide-ranging investigation that began in 1994.