Brown admits to meetings with Vietnamese

September 29, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Spokesmen for Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown sought yesterday to untangle apparent inconsistencies in his statements on an influence-peddling accusation, amid signs that political fallout from the allegation is causing growing concern at the White House.

Mr. Brown, accused of taking $700,000 to help lift the trade embargo against Vietnam, was quoted by his spokesman last month as saying that he had never met the Vietnamese businessmen who supposedly made the offer.

The allegation is the subject of a federal grand jury investigation in Florida.

But Mr. Brown's spokesman and his attorney now acknowledge that Mr. Brown met three times, including once in February when Mr. Brown was commerce secretary-designate.

The spokesman attributed the earlier statement to a misunderstanding.

The allegation has been made by Ly Thanh Binh, a business associate of Mr. Hao's.

When the allegation was first reported in mid-August, Mr. Brown declared "the whole thing was absurd," said Jim Desler, Mr. Brown's spokesman. "I took that and ran with it. I may have misinterpreted the secretary, but there was no intention to mislead."

White House spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers said President Clinton "accepts his explanation and stands by [Mr. Brown]." She said Mr. Clinton had discussed the allegations with Mr. Brown, and knew of the three meetings with Mr. Hao. But she said there was "no reason to believe . . . he has done anything wrong."

Amid growing publicity about the investigation, some White House aides are arguing that Mr. Brown needs to address the questions personally rather than through spokesmen.

Another source said that Mr. Brown has been "totally absorbed" by the allegation in the past month.

One sign of the seriousness with which he views the situation was his choice of an attorney -- Reid Weingarten, a former top prosecutor in the Justice Department's unit that investigates public officials.

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