The Senate investigation of campaign fund-raising abuses produced its first direct evidence of a foreign political contribution Tuesday - a $50,000 donation that the Democratic Party immediately pledged to return.
John Huang asked the Indonesian conglomerate that he worked for in 1992 to “please kindly wire” money to cover several expenses, including the donation, according to a memo released as the Senate hearings entered a second week. Huang later became a Democratic fund-raiser, but $1.6 million that he brought in had to be returned because it came from suspect sources.
“It certainly looks like the movement of foreign money into an American campaign in 1992,” one Democrat, Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, said of the $50,000.
“Based on the information presented by the committee,” the Democratic National Committee decided to return the contribution from a Lippo Group subsidiary, said spokesman Steve Langdon.
In other developments Tuesday:
Two Democrats agreed that the FBI had gathered sufficient evidence to show that the Chinese government had planned to influence the outcome of 1996 congressional elections. But Sens. John Glenn of Ohio and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut said in a statement it was not clear the plan was ever “put in motion” or was aimed at influencing the presidential race.
According to a sworn deposition obtained by The Associated Press, CIA officer John H. Dickerson, who had briefed Huang when Huang was a high Commerce Department official, testified that he had not been told that Huang’s bosses wanted him “walled off” from China issues. Dickerson provided between 370 and 550 raw intelligence reports on Asia.
Additional documents showed that a Hong Kong businessman and his American wife who pledged a $100,000 donation to the Democratic National Committee sought - and got - a 1995 meeting with President Clinton’s top national security advisers to discuss U.S. policy toward China.
The businessman, Eric Hotung, wanted to discuss “several policy options” about Taiwan and “provide insight” about China based on his relationships with Chinese officials, said the Sept. 20, 1995, memo from DNC chairman Donald L. Fowler to White House political director Doug Sosnik.
Fowler noted that Hotung, a British subject, and his wife, Patricia, “are very strong supporters of the president and the DNC.”
The businessman met for five minutes with Samuel Berger, then the deputy national security adviser, and had a more lengthy meeting with Robert L. Suettinger, an NSC aide, said a White House official speaking on condition of anonymity.
Neither recalls the specifics of the meetings, the official said. But they said Hotung had had meetings both before and after the contribution was offered.
“There is no truth whatsoever to any suggestion that the meeting with Mr. Berger, or with anyone else at the White House for that matter, was in exchange for a campaign contribution,” White House special counsel Lanny Davis said. “We consider such a meeting with Mr. Berger and Mr. Hotung to be appropriate under these circumstances.”
Huang’s Aug. 17, 1992, memo to Lippo headquarters in Jakarta itemized $50,000 “DNC Victory - Contribution” among four expenses for which he sought $146,500.
Republicans tried to suggest that the company, which lost nearly $500,000 in each of the years 1992 and 1993, was set up at least in part to funnel money for political contributions.
Last week, investigators produced evidence that Democratic Party donors received large wire transfers from overseas before making contributions to the DNC. But that evidence was largely circumstantial. Huang’s 1992 memo requesting the wire transfer directly links overseas money to a donation.
Huang left Lippo in 1994 to become a senior Commerce Department official and became a Democratic fund-raiser in 1995.
Committee investigators are also trying to determine whether Huang passed sensitive Commerce Department economic data to Lippo or China while he was a deputy assistant commerce secretary.