Clinton aide at bay over tax row

Washington - Long-standing allegations against the Commerce Secretary, Ron Brown, have taken on a serious new dimension, writes Rupert Cornwell. It is claimed Mr Brown, a close adviser of the President, broke federal law by failing to report incom e froma controversial business partnership in 1993, when he was already a member of the Clinton cabinet.

This is but the latest controversy surrounding the business dealings of Mr Brown, an influential lawyer-lobbyist who as Democratic chairman in 1992 was crucial in overcoming widespread doubts within the party over the presidential prospects of the then Governor of Arkansas. Earlier this week, 14 Republican Senators wrote to the Attorney-General, Janet Reno, asking her to appoint an independent counsel to investigate separate charges that Mr Brown might have misled Congress and evaded income tax.

All this is the last thing Bill Clinton needs as he struggles to remain a force in the new Republican Washington. Apart from his own problems over Whitewater, he has already lost one Cabinet member, Mike Espy, who resigned as Agriculture Secretary last year under a cloud. And Henry Cisneros, the Housing Secretary, is the subject of an investigation into whether he misled the FBI over payments to a former mistress.

According to documents produced by Republicans on Capitol Hill, and not disputed by Mr Brown's lawyers, the Commerce Secretary received $135,000 from the partnership, First International Limited. First International's main source of income was interest on a loan extended to a broadcasting company owned by Mr Brown's associate in First International. That company, Corridor Broadcasting, had earlier defaulted on a federal loan, at a cost to taxpayers of $23m.

Mr Brown's lawyers are dismissing the fuss as a storm in a teacup, a partisan witch-hunt "which would be laughable were not its consequences so serious," in the words of one. Not least of the possible consequences is that plans for Mr Brown to take charge of Mr Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign will have to be scrapped.

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