US Labor Secretary Herman denies corruption charges

By Jim Wolf WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Labor Secretary Alexis Herman Thursday denied corruption charges against her that could lead to the appointment of an independent counsel. ``I want you to know that these allegations are not true,'' she told reporters before leaving on a trip to New York with President Clinton. She said she would not let the charges, which she did not detail, distract her from her job. Clinton told reporters he did not believe charges that Herman sold her influence and made a show of looking supportive throughout the day trip to New York, even sheltering the beleaguered Cabinet secretary under his umbrella at one point. In an ABC television interview aired Wednesday night, a businessman said that he had once delivered an envelope containing an unspecified sum of cash to Herman's home when she was working as a Clinton White House aide. The Cameroon-born businessman, Laurent Yene, currently of no known address, said the cash was a 10 percent cut of consulting fees given to him by a client seeking a federal license for a satellite-telephone system. Herman noted the Justice Department, under the Independent Counsel Act, was obligated to look into any specific and credible allegation that a Cabinet member may have committed a crime. ``I accept that as a part of this job,'' she said. She said her lawyer Neil Eggleston told the Justice Department she would cooperate fully. Herman and Clinton attended a business conference in New York on expanding economic opportunity to minorities and women, and Herman drew a standing ovation after her remarks. The two discussed policy matters and the day's events on their trip back from New York on Air Force One, said White House spokesman Mike McCurry. Aspects of Yene's dealings with Herman first surfaced in April 1997, before Clinton chose her as labor secretary. At the time she was director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, dealing with many special interest groups. Yene was a part-owner of a consulting business with Vanessa Weaver, a longtime Herman friend who bought the firm from Herman when she took the White House job. One of Weaver's lawyers, Jeffrey Fried, said Weaver sued Yene in July 1997, charging him with misappropriating funds, including cash withdrawals from their business, and making false charges about Weaver and her business. Another of Weaver's lawyers, Lawrence Barcella, said Yene had for six months been ``ducking'' service of the lawsuit against him. Asked how Yene might be reached, Barcella laughed and said: ``Good luck.'' Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful. The Justice Department's public integrity section is conducting the preliminary investigation to decide if an independent counsel should be named. Under the law, the attorney general has 90 days, once such a probe has begun, to decide whether to ask a special federal court to appoint a counsel to conduct a full investigation. The law permits the Justice Department to extend the preliminary investigation for 60 days if necessary. Clinton said ``I don't believe that for a minute,'' when asked on Thursday by a reporter if Herman might have taken cash to pedal influence in his administration. McCurry said in a statement Wednesday that Clinton ''continues to have full faith and confidence in Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman.'' ^REUTERS@ Reut21:24 01-15-98 (15 Jan 1998 21:24 EST)