July 17, 1997 in Nation/World

Campaign Probe Targets Secret Perks Huang May Have Been Given Access To Classified Government Material

Knight-Ridder
 

A day after learning that Democratic fund-raiser John Huang allegedly laundered an illegal campaign contribution from an Asian business, a Senate committee heard how Huang received government secrets that could have allowed him to return the favor.

Huang was given secret CIA briefings on Asian trade and business intelligence, even though his Commerce Department boss thought Huang was unqualified to handle Asian affairs, officials from the Commerce Department and the CIA testified Wednesday.

At the same time, he made frequent visits to a nearby business office where he could have privately faxed copies of classified information, said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. And he made several visits to the Chinese embassy here, said Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

Huang has denied wrongdoing, but is refusing to testify unless granted immunity from criminal prosecution for at least some possible crimes.

The Justice Department has told the Senate it wants to keep the right to charge Huang with a crime, although it is unclear whether he would be charged with violating laws covering the money he brought into the Democratic Party or with any government information he might have given out.

After hearing testimony about how the Clinton administration gave Huang and others interim security clearances before they had full background investigations, Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, said it failed to prove that anyone tried to slip Huang into the Commerce Department so he could funnel secret information back to his former employer, the Lippo Group, an Indonesian conglomerate with business throughout Asia.

A memo released Tuesday showed that Huang asked Lippo in 1992 to wire money to cover several expenses, including a $50,000 donation to the Democratic Party.

“We are trying to make something very mysterious about this … trying to make him some sort of mysterious character that was placed for subversive reasons or some nefarious purpose,” Glenn said.

“I’ve been through all the intelligence stuff and everything else. I just saw nothing sinister about the process that was used to put him in that position.”

That drew a pointed response from Thompson, who all but accused Glenn of trying hurt the committee inquiry.

“It’s easy to set up some kind of a grandiose theory and say that, if you don’t prove that, then everything else is irrelevant,” Thompson said.

“He clearly had access to information that would have been, theoretically, of interest to Lippo. And to say that because we haven’t proved he’s a spy yet - is totally missing the mark and totally an attempt to divert our attention off of serious procedural matters, substantive matters, trying to find out what actually happened in this last presidential campaign.”

But Thompson and committee Republicans did appear to be building a case that suggested wrongdoing by Huang in the Commerce Department.

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