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It's time to dog the Asian connection

Published Jul. 15, 1997|Updated Oct. 1, 2005

We learned from Fred Thompson, at the outset of Senate hearings into campaign corruption, that the committee had reason to believe "high-level Chinese government officials crafted a plan to increase China's influence over the U.S. political process," and that the FBI "has developed and gathered a large volume of detailed information on the plan's implementation."

No senator would make that statement without FBI approval. It is surely connected to Director Louis Freeh's unprecedented refusal in February to share sensitive counterintelligence with the White House Counsel, which could stem from evidence of an espionage penetration of the Clinton administration.

To follow up Thompson's stunning disclosure, the Senate should discover what top-secret information was provided to John Huang, the Lippo operative whom Clinton placed first at Commerce and then at the DNC.

One CIA official briefed Huang 37 times, showing up to 15 classified documents on each visit. He wrote down Huang's comments on the documents, some of which revealed human sources. It doesn't matter if the CIA briefer has to wear a bag over his head at this week's hearings to protect his identity; Sen. Arlen Specter, a former prosecutor with intelligence credentials, should be tasked with the full interrogation.

Huang then made many calls to his former Lippo employer, and went across the street to make surreptitious calls from the office of Stephens Inc., banking buddies of Clinton who sold an Arkansas bank to Lippo. Let's see the list of all those calls to Canada and overseas.

Hard evidence that contributions to Clinton's DNC originated illegally in Beijing: One wire transfer of $150,000 from the Bank of China covered the check for $50,000 handed directly to Hillary Clinton's chief of staff in the White House. That purchased six Chinese "businessmen's" entrance to the president's weekly radio address.

We can deduce from Huang's immunity ploy that he worries about a potential charge that he unlawfully solicited political funds while he was a Commerce official. The DNC thrice listed his wife as the fund-raiser; after Huang moved to the DNC, the same donors' subsequent contributions were credited to him. If convicted on such a charge, Huang might be inclined to tell much more to reduce a sentence than he would if now granted immunity from prosecution.

Last week's fund-raising witness testified that the DNC considered Huang a specialist in "soft-money" _ big chunks directed to the party, not smaller sums that could go to a candidate. Here's the significance:

In August 1995 Joseph Giroir (a Riady acolyte remembered at the Rose law firm as the partner who hired Hillary) started urging the DNC to take on Commerce official Huang.

When the DNC resisted for unexplained reasons, incredible heat was applied. No fewer than 16 buttons were pushed, including one by Harold Ickes; finally, President Clinton himself had to direct finance chairman Marvin Rosen to hire Huang.

Why the urgency? Because in that summer (as books by Bob Woodward and Dick Morris show), Clinton was desperate for soft money to pay for anti-Republican TV ads to boost his ratings. Direct contribution of small sums to the Clinton-Gore campaign would not do the trick. To circumvent the campaign finance law, Clinton needed a source of major soft money paid to the DNC, fast.

Huang's Asian connection was a key source. Hearings should show that at the notorious Oval Office meeting on Sept. 13, 1995 (lyingly labeled a "social visit"), Giroir _ backed by Lippo's James Riady and counsel Bruce Lindsey _ asked Clinton to move Huang from commerce to DNC. Then and there Clinton okayed Huang's transfer from favor-doer to fund-raiser.

Did Clinton suspect that Huang might be using his top-secret clearance to provide Riady's Lippo, and ultimately China, with trade secrets? When Riady urged China policy changes, did the president feel pressured by past debts and future needs?

I like to think the president was merely duped by his Asian contributors, and persuaded himself he made no policy decision "solely" _ his chosen qualifier _ on the basis of their largess.

These hearings may find our president _ blinded by ambition and greed into breaking the campaign laws _ was unaware of the danger that his confederates may have been manipulating him in the interest of foreign powers.

New York Times News Service

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