The Clinton campaign finance scandal is back in the news, because of
the tireless work of Chairman Dan Burton of the U.S. House of
Representatives Government Reform and Oversight Committee. Rep. Burton,
R-Ind., just won't give up and allow this matter to be swept under the
rug in his committee, as it has been in so many other places. Burton
has been demonized by the administration. However, he beat Clinton's
muckrakers to the punch by announcing that, many years ago, he had
fathered a son out of wedlock. Then he continued the investigation
while many of his less courageous colleagues simply folded their tents
and faded into the woodwork.
Burton now is releasing details of the testimony that former Commerce
official John Huang gave the FBI regarding the part he and his former
boss, John Riady, who owns the six billion dollar Indonesian banking
conglomerate known as the Lippo Group, played in the 1992 presidential
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Here's what we know: Riady told Huang that he had promised Clinton 1
million dollars for his 1992 campaign. The conversation allegedly
occurred during a limousine ride and apparently President Clinton did
nothing to discourage Riady from following through and delivering this
illegal money. Then Riady met with Huang to arrange for thousands of
dollars in donations to be funneled through Lippo employees. Huang told
the FBI that he obtained the private bank account numbers from the
employees and passed them to Lippo headquarters in Jakarta to make sure
the contributors were reimbursed. Huang said he assumed these people
would be taken care of because he himself had been taken care of for his
contributions to the Democratic Party.
Where does Burton go from here? As damning as this information may
appear, he may be headed down a dead end street, because the statute of
limitations has run out on Clinton's initial campaign and Mr. Riady has
fled the country. The Justice Department refused to ask him to
cooperate with Burton's committee and blocked Burton's efforts to obtain
his testimony before he was sentenced. In August, Huang pled guilty to
violating federal election laws and received what amounted to a slap on
the wrist: a $10,000 fine and one year of probation.
In October, the Government Reform and Oversight Committee voted to
give Huang immunity to pave the way for his public testimony later this
year. Here's the problem: Now that this man is completely off the hook,
why would he be willing to tell the Government Reform and Oversight
Committee anything that might place members of this administration in
legal jeopardy. Huang surely must be considering what has happened to
Los Angeles businessman Johnny Chung, the only man indicted by the
Clinton Justice Department who has been willing to fully cooperate with
the FBI, the Justice Department and Congress. As a result, there have
been three attempts on his life and his family has been threatened.
Chung charges that the Democratic National Committee wrote an
unsolicited letter to his sentencing judge, Manuel Real, portraying
itself as a victim and asking Judge Real to throw the book at him. That
could have meant a 37-year prison sentence and a $1.45 million fine.
Fortunately for Chung, Real, a Democrat who was appointed by Lyndon
Johnson, did not go along. Chung pled guilty to a felony tax evasion,
bank fraud in obtaining the $157,500 loan for his home and a misdemeanor
election law violation of using straw donors to funnel $20,000 to the
1996 Clinton-Gore Reelection Campaign.
However, Chung willingly began providing information to federal
prosecutors a full year before he had reached a plea agreement with the
Justice Department in March of 1998. In fact, his cooperation went far
beyond answering questions and turning over records. Shortly after
press accounts reported his deal with federal investigators, Mr. Chung
was approached by an associate of Liu Chaoing, an executive of a Chinese
government-owned aerospace company and a lieutenant colonel in the
Chinese military, who advised him to keep silent about some of his
Chinese contacts. In return, this San Gabriel Valley businessman told
him that he would receive funds sufficient "to live very comfortably."
Then, the man said pointedly, "By the way, how is your family?" Thanks
to Chung, the FBI captured the meeting on videotape. Judge Real took
all this into consideration when he sentenced Chung to five years
probation and 3,000 hours of community service.
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Huang also must be looking closely at the treatment of a small
Arkansas restaurant owner named Charlie Trie who delivered $640,000 to
the DNC and $460,000 to Clinton's legal defense fund. Trie was allowed
to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of making $5,000 in political
contributions in the names of others and causing the Democratic National
Committee to make a false report to the Federal Election Commission.
Trie also has not testified before Congress and Judge George Howard of
Little Rock let him escape with a $5,000 fine, four months of home
detention, four years probation and 200 hours of community service.
Judge Howard actually bumped up the sentence from what Janet Reno's
prosecutors recommended -- three years probation and a $150 fine.
The message Huang surely has received from all this: "If you just
keep your mouth shut you will be fine."