White House Releases Overnight Guest Lists

W A S H I N G T O N, Sept. 22, 2000 -- After a week of delays, the White House has released a list of overnight guests, hoping to quiet questions about whether supporters of the first lady’s Senate campaign have been getting special treatment.

Though critics have tried to accuse Hillary Rodham Clinton of using sleepovers at the White House and Camp David to reward or entice supporters of her Senate bid, the administration denies the invitations were made in return for money and remains unashamed of the practice.

“The Clintons will continue to invite guests to visit them at the White House and at Camp David during the president’s remaining months in office,” press secretary Joe Lockhart said today.

The release lists 404 “family members, friends and supporters, public officials and others” who have spent the night at the White House or the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland since Mrs. Clinton effectively launched her campaign last July in New York.

Making the List

The list is broken into five categories: “Arkansas Friends,” “Longtime Friends,” “Officials and Dignitaries,” “Arts and Letters and Sports,” and “Friends and Supporters.”

The latter category includes major contributors to Mrs. Clinton’s Senate campaign and to other Democratic causes. First on the list is Daniel Abraham, founder of Slim Fast foods and a major Democratic contributor. Abraham has donated $700,000 to the Democratic Party and $148,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign, which is supporting Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. Abraham and his wife, Ewa, each have contributed $2,000 directly to the first lady’s campaign.

Of the 122 dignitaries and celebrities on the list, there are 13 governors, eight mayors, one senator, one former president (Jimmy Carter, and 11 other members of his family), one king and one queen, both from Spain.

‘Helluva Room’

One overnight visitor who did not want to be identified described the Lincoln Bedroom as “a helluva nice room.” The visitor, who acknowledged contributing to the Clinton campaign, insisted he was invited because of his friendship with the Clintons — not because of his donation.

Among the showbiz notables on the guest list were actors Chevy Chase, Meg Ryan, Danny DeVito, Dennis Quaid, Ted Danson, Rhea Perlman and Will Smith. Musicians Jimmy Buffet and Quincy Jones also spent the night, as did the recently ousted head of CNN’s domestic news operation, Rick Kaplan.

Last week, the first lady defended her right to invite guests to stay at her home.

“We have friends and supporters come and spend time with us andspend the night with us, that we are getting to know and who likespending time with us,” she said. “I don’t see what’snews about that.”

The names were released without the dates of the stays, making it difficult to know when the guests were staying. But at least one supporter told ABCNEWS of staying at the White House when the first lady was not home. Bill Dal Col, campaign manager for Mrs. Clinton’s Senate rival, Rep. Rick Lazio, R-N.Y., fired off a press release today demanding that Mrs. Clinton release the dates of the sleepovers so the stays can be checked against the first lady’s travel schedule.

“New Yorkers deserve to know if shewas there, ‘getting to know’ these big donors, or if they were merely renting out these taxpayer-owned monuments like a cheap motel,” Dal Col said.

Mrs. Clinton’s campaign manager said today, “There has not been any quid pro quo for contributions and less than 1 percent ofthe campaign’s contributors have stayed overnight.”

What’s Wrong?

Earlier, Attorney General Janet Reno told reporters at her weekly briefing that she expected there would be nothing illegal about the lists.

“If the president of the United Stateswants to invite somebody to stay at … what is, in effect, hishome for a four-year period or an eight-year period, he ought to beable to do it,” Reno said.

But Mrs. Clinton’s opponents, particularly Lazio, call it tantamount to selling the White House.

“History is again repeating itself and has reached a new low,” Dal Col said, referring to criticism leveled at President Clinton after his 1996 re-election campaign for inviting big donors to spend the night.

The president said “the Lincoln Bedroom was never sold,” when the White House released a list of 938 guests who had spent the night.

Though the White House insisted today there was nothing untoward about the overnights, Lockhart chastised the press for the way “this has all comeabout.”

“This list was released after a non-journalist, gossip-monger on the Internet started this a week ago, without any facts,” Lockhart said, railing against reporter Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report.

Last week, reporters started asking questions about the sleepovers after Drudge posted a story on his Web site that cited a New York Times source saying the paper had been sitting on a story that tied overnights to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. The Times refused to comment and said it is against company policy to hold breaking stories. Lockhart has made a policy of refusing to comment on questions related to Drudge’s reporting.

ABCNEWS’ Charles B. Herman and The Associated Press contributed to this report.