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BROWN TRADE MISSION SEATS EXCHANGED FOR CONTRIBUTIONS?

WASHINGTON-In the most explosive and potentially damning allegation of its kind to date, a former business associate of late Commerce secretary Ron Brown testified in court last week that seats on trade missions-some with lucrative telecom contracts at stake-were awarded in exchange for Democratic campaign contributions of $50,000 each.

Nolanda Hill, recently indicted on charges of diverting company money for personal use, claims Brown considered destroying documents linking Democratic donations to trade mission slots and that high-level White House aides (former chief of staff Leon Panetta and then-staff secretary John Podesta) wanted those documents withheld from a conservative watchdog group seeking them in a lawsuit against Commerce.

The documents, according to Hill, were written by Melissa Moss, a former Democratic National Committee fundraiser who worked in Commerce’s Office of Business Liaison.

The White House last year offered, and Judicial Watch refused, $2 million (for legal costs) to drop its lawsuit into whether the composition of Commerce trade trips was driven by Democratic campaign contributions. The Clinton administration two weeks ago renewed its request to dismiss the case.

“It’s part and parcel to an overall scheme by the president and Mrs. Clinton to sell off every taxpayer-financed service for campaign contributions. It’s commonly known as bribery,” said Larry Klayman, head of Judicial Watch.

Of particular interest, is the charge that Hillary Rodham Clinton directed a reluctant Ron Brown to carry out the political sale of seats on trade trips. Brown was killed with 34 others in a plane crash in Croatia in 1996.

“Ron expressed to me his displeasure that the purpose of the Commerce trade mission had been and were being perverted at the direction of the White House,” said Hill in a three-page sworn affidavit.

The first lady’s press spokeswoman declined to comment.

“I became aware, through my discussions with Ron, that the trade missions were being used as a fund-raising tool for the upcoming Clinton-Gore presidential campaign and the Democratic Party,” Hill stated.

“Ron told me that domestic companies were being solicited to donate large sums of money in exchange for the selection to participate on trade missions of the Commerce Department,” she added.

The White House, as it has done in other high-profile political scandals, sought to discredit Hill.

“Miss Hill’s allegations regarding Leon Panetta and John Podesta and the White House are false in every respect,” said Jim Kennedy, special advisor to the White House counsel.

Podesta, White House deputy chief of staff, added, “The only thing accurate in Miss Hill’s affidavit with respect to me and my conduct is the spelling of my name.”

Wireless executives and other telecom business leaders went on Commerce trade trips to China, India, Russia and other emerging markets with the promise of billions of dollars in massive telecom infrastructure projects.

“We’ve fully cooperated with this investigation,” said Mary Hanley, a spokeswoman for the Commerce Department.

Commerce Secretary William Daley has pledged to remove politics from U.S. trade missions.

Congressional and federal investigators, meanwhile, continue to investigate whether illegal foreign campaign contributions influenced U.S. elections and White House policies and possibly undermined national and economic security.

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