How to Become a Top Banana

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    But the Clinton Administration liked the notion. On Monday, Oct. 17, 1994, Kantor authorized the 301 investigation. That Thursday night Lindner was in the White House, attending a dinner as a guest of the President. And the following week, Al Gore called Lindner, asking for another major donation. Lindner delivered. On Nov. 3, Lindner's American Financial Corp. donated $50,000 to the D.N.C. His Great American Holding Corp. donated $25,000, and his American Money Management kicked in $25,000, bringing the one-day total to $100,000.

    At the same time, Senators Dole and Glenn kept the pressure on, urging Kantor in another letter on Nov. 17 to retaliate against the Europeans.

    The following month, on Dec. 10, the Lindners again met with Kantor, after which they fired off a "Dear Mickey" letter, thanking him for his efforts.

    At year's end, on Dec. 30, James E. Evans, a Lindner executive, contributed $150,000 to the D.N.C., bringing to $250,000 the sum that in one year Lindner, his companies and their executives poured into Democratic coffers.

    On Jan. 3, 1995, four days after the latest Lindner-related contribution, Kantor announced "a list of retaliatory actions that he [was] considering against the European Union to counter E.U. policies which discriminate against U.S. banana marketing companies." Specifically, Kantor said he was contemplating sanctions "that would directly hit E.U. firms providing air, maritime and space transportation services."

    On Thursday of the same week, Terry McAuliffe, Bill Clinton's moneyman and Lindner's home-building partner, sent a memo to Nancy Hernreich, one of the President's administrative assistants, summarizing a conversation he had had with the President on fund-raising activities. McAuliffe asked that overnight stays at the White House be arranged for major contributors; that dates be scheduled for contributors to have breakfast, lunch or coffee with the President; and that other contributors be included in such presidential activities as golf and jogging.

    The next day another aide passed along a memo to Harold Ickes, the President's deputy chief of staff, saying that "Nancy has asked us to follow up on this at the President's direction and his note indicates 'promptly.'" The memo called for "overnights for top top supporters." Accompanying McAuliffe's memo was a 10-person list of those "top top" supporters prepared by McAuliffe. Prominently holding down the No. 2 slot: longtime Republican Carl H. Lindner.

    Five weeks later, on Feb. 9, Lindner was in the White House at a state dinner honoring German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. After entertainment by Tony Bennett and a German chorus, Lindner went upstairs to bed. Less than two weeks later, he was back in the White House for coffee.

    Cranking Up the Pressure
    Throughout this period, Lindner's allies in Congress kept the pressure on the Clinton Administration. On June 21, Senator Dole wrote to Kantor: "I am concerned that time is running out in the banana case. U.S. banana companies are on the verge of suffering even greater irreparable damage as a result of the E.U. and Latin practices."

    Kantor scribbled a note in the margin of the letter, addressed to Jeff N.--Jeffrey Nuechterlein, senior counsel to Kantor--and Jeffrey L.--Jeffrey Lang, one of his top aides: "Please give me a way to proceed. Pressure is going to grow. MK."

    Kantor says he has no recollection of the note. "I don't remember writing it," he says. Lang doesn't remember it either. He recused himself from the banana dispute, he says, because before his appointment as Deputy U.S. Trade Representative, he represented the European side in the WTO proceedings. Nuechterlein, likewise, doesn't remember anything about it. "I was not involved with bananas substantively," he says.

    Dim memories aside, the pressure did indeed grow. On July 19 Carl and Keith Lindner wrote to Kantor again, expressing their dissatisfaction with proposals put forth by the Europeans to resolve the banana dispute. At least in the view of the Lindners, the war should be waged as a joint effort, with Chiquita and its ally, the U.S. government, on one side and the European Union Commission on the other.

    On Aug. 3, the four-member Hawaiian congressional delegation sent a letter to Kantor saying they were prepared to talk about possible "international courses of action" against the E.U. As America's only state producing bananas--most were grown for consumption on the islands--Hawaii had an indirect stake in the outcome of the banana war; because Chiquita, Dole and other producers had flooded the European market, tariffs notwithstanding, the overflow had found its way back into the U.S., driving down retail prices.

    The following day, Lindner's American Financial Corp. delivered an additional $100,000 to the D.N.C. A few days later, the Lindners met once again with Kantor. Two months went by. On Nov. 3, the Lindners advised Kantor's staff that it was "very important" they get together for 20 minutes. This particular meeting did not take place, but nine days later, on a Sunday night, Lindner was sitting behind Clinton at a presidential gala in Ford's Theatre.

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