July 12, 1997 in Nation/World

Immunity Debate Clouds Huang Role Parties Clash Over Testimony In Probe Of Influence Peddling

New York Times
 
Tags:ethics

A sometimes testy, three-hour meeting between lawyers for John Huang, the central figure in the Democratic fund-raising controversy, and lawyers for the Senate committee investigating campaign finance abuses ended Friday with Republican and Democratic lawyers clashing over whether Huang should be given a grant of immunity to testify.

The Republicans are reluctant to let Huang testify for fear that his testimony may jeopardize possible prosecutions. The Democrats say they want him to appear as a witness to rebut Republican allegations of a Chinese government plot to influence last year’s elections.

This debate continues even though some who have seen Huang’s videotaped deposition in a related case said he might make for a surprisingly undramatic witness, one who often obfuscates.

After three days of hearings this week before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, the debate over Huang’s possible testimony has taken on enormous political and legal implications.

Many had hoped that he would be the star witness, one who even the Democrats say was involved in questionable fund raising. Without such a breakthrough witness, even Republican staff members acknowledge that the hearings have produced few fireworks and few revelations.

Ultimately, the decision on immunity will require the approval of two-thirds of the committee, with the Republican majority expected to take its cue from the committee’s chairman, Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.

Democrats, who first raised the issue of immunity, have said all week that they are confident that Huang’s testimony will vindicate their position that his fund-raising efforts, however questionable, will not support the allegations against China.

In the opening week of the hearings, the Republicans were often upstaged by an aggressive Democratic public relations campaign and by the surprise offer by Democrats for Huang to testify.

And, with public interest in the hearings flagging, the Republicans may need to produce a high-profile witness, like Huang, to keep attention focused on their allegations.

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