When I learned last week the president and vice president of the
United States offered a private dinner with the two most powerful men on
earth for any fat cat donor who was willing to come up with half a
million dollars, I said, “What is this?”
The 1996 campaign finance scandal is not over yet! Yesterday, May 11
was the one-year anniversary of my congressional testimony for
Chinagate. After all this time, they are still doing this. In 1997 I
made a statement that was widely quoted: “I see this White House like a
subway — you have to put in the coin to open the gate.” This latest
example of money for access proves I was right.
Another example is in the case of Elian Gonzales, who was taken to a
big-time DNC donor’s house in Georgetown. People said that no money
changed hands; my experience with the DNC suggests otherwise — that is
how they operate. Sure, you don’t have to pay for the event beforehand,
but before you go to the event, you’ve already made a commitment for
$5,000, $10,000, $25,000 or even $100,000 to the DNC. Then you go to
the next party and you pay for it. That’s how it works, ladies and
gentleman. It’s nuts!
But on to other things.
My last column led up to a dinner invitation by my prosecutor in the Chinagate scandal, Michael McCaul. As promised, I have written an account of that experience.
In response to McCaul’s invitation, I said it would be my honor to be there and arrived with my friend, Bob Abernethy, and one of the FBI special agents that had been assigned to my case — Andy.
McCaul introduced us to his beautiful wife and two lovely little girls. Before dinner, we were all sitting on their nice backyard deck overlooking the quiet woods and enjoying the scenery, which even included some whitetail deer that walked by.
At one point, McCaul said, “Mr. Chung, you should write a movie script. Of course, I know you told everything you know about the case to the Justice Department. But I see a much bigger picture than you do. It would make a good movie.”
Interestingly, McCaul was not the first person who knew the details of my case to say such a thing. Others had called me a combination of Forrest Gump and James Bond and said that my case was stranger than the “X-Files.” Many people had asked me when I was going to write a book or a movie script.
McCaul asked, “Do you have any idea what the movie title would be?”
“Yes,” I told him. “An American Prosecutor.”
He was at first surprised at my response. I continued: “It should be told through your eyes as an American prosecutor who was able to look at the entire Chinagate issue,” I explained.
He was still surprised and wasn’t sure what to say. He smiled and looked over at Andy, who just smiled and shrugged his shoulders. McCaul looked over at his wife. She seemed proud of him, and she wasn’t against the idea I was suggesting. We talked about it a little more, and then he agreed it was probably a good idea.
Then he gave me some news that was very shocking. He had decided to resign from the DOJ and was moving to Texas to work for that state’s attorney general.
I asked him why, but he didn’t say too much about it. However, I could see the frustration in his face that must have been caused from difficulty he had experienced during his investigation of the Chinagate scandal.
McCaul already knew Bob from November 1998, when Bob stepped in to accompany me from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. after my promised FBI escort was called off just a day before my trip (to the shock of the Los Angeles FBI office). Apparently, the Justice Department had decided I should make that trip alone. It was a very tense time. The purpose of the trip was for me to go to the federal courthouse and give my first courtroom testimony about the scandal. McCaul was grateful to Bob for helping deliver his witness safely for this grand jury testimony.
As we sat on the McCauls’ backyard deck and discussed that trip, we told McCaul and Andy something they didn’t yet know. I asked Bob to tell them what happened when we landed at Dulles airport.
“Suffice it to say,” Bob said, “that, under the circumstances, with Johnny going to give his first official courtroom testimony about Chinagate, the FBI escort being called off at the last minute, and the LA FBI people wondering what was going on, Johnny and I were on ‘red alert’ during the whole trip. We almost switched planes from American to United at the last minute just as a precaution, but were advised against it. When we got to Washington, it was late at night.”
Bob continued, “You know how at Dulles, to get from the airplane to the taxis, you first go down those escalators to the baggage claim area? Well, Johnny is on the escalator right in front of me, and as we’re descending, I’m scanning around for anything out of the ordinary. I notice a well-dressed Chinese man in his mid-thirties to mid-forties, well over to our right on the side of the baggage claim area. He’s clearly watching Johnny as the escalator descends.
“This guy is no slouch — he’s wearing a sharp-looking light gray suit, he looks very fit and his black hair is neatly combed. But I notice he has no baggage, he’s not near the baggage carousel, and he’s by himself. There’s nothing in his hands — not even a briefcase or a newspaper.
“I didn’t like the way this all added up — especially the fact that he was watching Johnny instead of the baggage carousel. I acted like I didn’t notice him, and I look around for anything else funny-looking. But this guy is the only unusual thing I see.
“Johnny and I had carried on all our baggage, so we headed straight for the taxis. To do this, we had to go to our left and then down one of those long, straight hallways from the baggage area to the outside taxi area.
“As we’re walking down the long hallway, I’m still wondering about this Chinese guy. There’s no one else in the hallway except us. When we get halfway down the hallway — with Johnny a step ahead of me on my right — I turn around abruptly as we continue walking to see if there’s anyone behind us.
“Sure enough, this same Chinese guy, who before was well off to our right as we came down the escalator, is now standing directly behind us at the end of the hallway and he’s looking right at us. And there’s still no one else in that hallway but us. My eyes lock onto his, and we are clearly sizing each other up. He didn’t look very happy or friendly at all. I give him my best ‘make my day, pal’ kind of look as I wait to see what he’s going to do. No way I’m going to turn my back to him again.
“After a few seconds he turns and walks away to his left and was quickly out of sight. I’m thinking, ‘Who is this guy?’ It was spooky. I was glad to get in the cab with Johnny and get out of there.
“We found out later there were two FBI agents at Dulles that night watching for Johnny, but one of them was Caucasian and the other African-American. So we still don’t know who the Chinese guy was and why he was there.”
McCaul, Andy, and McCaul’s wife were listening intently as Bob described what happened. When he finished, McCaul and Andy looked at each other knowingly and said they were not surprised. The men explained that, at that time especially, there was also concern for McCaul’s safety. They and others were concerned enough that a number of FBI agents took turns protecting McCaul and his family around the clock, on their own time.
Bob and I were both surprised and not surprised to hear them say this. It amazed us that a United States federal prosecutor was being protected by FBI agents who were concerned for the safety of him and his family. We wondered exactly who they were protecting him from and why on their own time, but we knew better than to ask such direct questions about such a sensitive issue.
Just before dinner was served, McCaul said to Bob, “Why don’t you say the prayer? We are all Christians here.”
That was the first time I realized McCaul was also a Christian.
So Bob said the prayer, and we sat down to eat.
“What’s this all about?” I wondered as we began eating. My own prosecutor resigned, Chuck LaBella resigned, and the FBI agents that knew my case very well were all reassigned. Now I hear my prosecutor was under FBI protection by agents on their own time.
I was still thinking about this strange chain of events as we were talking and enjoying the wonderful meal McCaul’s wife had prepared — a nice salad of greens and fruit, followed by juicy and tender filet mignon, tasty asparagus, delicious mashed potatoes, and more!
As we were all enjoying this feast, McCaul asked, “Johnny, I was wondering … if I should pre-decease you, would you come to my funeral to say a few words?”
“How do you know who will go first?” I asked. “It could be me.”
“Well,” he said, “if you go first, I’ll say something at your funeral.”
He told me he would say that I was an American hero, and that he had great respect for me.
“It will be my honor to speak at your funeral,” McCaul said.
At that moment, everyone became very quiet. We looked at each other, and I said, “We are bonded for a lifetime. I promise you, Mr. McCaul, you will be the one and only prosecutor for Johnny Chung. I won’t be committing any more crimes. And, if you go first, yes, I will be happy to say something at your funeral.”
As we left his house after the wonderful meal, and after saying goodbye to his family, Andy — the FBI special agent — drove us back to our hotel. During the drive, I pondered the complicated and unique situation I was in. My prosecutor, the man whose job was to put me in jail, called me a hero and became a lifetime friend. As strange as it was, though, my heart was relieved.
When I got back to my hotel, I said goodbye to Andy, saying, “Andy, you are the toughest FBI agent, but you have a good heart. Thank you.”
“Mr. Chung,” he replied, “I know you told the whole truth. Your story is always the same and always corroborates. Good luck to you.”
Then I went back to my room and began to sing an old hymn in my head.
“What a friend we have in Jesus all our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”
My heart felt very peaceful that night. It was the first night that I slept really well in a long time.
But I also felt so sorry for the American people because they were losing McCaul. The people in the state of Texas are very lucky to have such a good American prosecutor working for them now.