Huang Seeking Limited Immunity -- Feb. 21, 1997
HUD Abandons A Tainted Loan Program -- Feb. 21, 1997
Clinton's Re-election Road Paved With Money
By Brooks Jackson/CNN
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 24) -- Bill Clinton said American politics was being held hostage by big money. And he blamed George Bush.
Clinton said at the 1992 Democratic convention, "He won't break the stranglehold the special interests have on our elections and the lobbyists have on our government. But I will."
Candidate Clinton promised reform. No more soft money. No more $100,000 contributions. No more corporate money in campaigns.
But President Clinton raised more soft money than any Democrat in history. Paving the road to his own re-election with a trail of money, he followed a trail leading to Buddhist temples and Asian businessmen, to Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand and, possibly, inside the Embassy of China.
Clinton now says, "I think some of these people make honest mistakes."
But they were big mistakes, not just political embarrassments. Laws were broken.
And dire suspicions are being voiced.
"Selling foreign policy, selling our national security for a price," says Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-N.Y.). "This is all what this looks like and it's never been that way."
The FBI has 25 agents on the case full-time. Congress plans a year-long investigation. How did it happen?
We begin with the president's need.
It was 1994. Clinton's popularity was plunging, and Republicans won the Congress.
Clinton looked finished. He was reduced to saying, in April 1995, "The president is relevant here."
So in 1995, Clinton launched his comeback with a massive TV ad campaign, well over a year before Election Day.
The ads worked. Some, such as Dick Morris, say they were crucial.
"Without those ads, Clinton would not have been re-elected," says the president's disgraced former political strategist.
But the price was enormous, and so was Clinton's need for money.
"It started at about a million a week," says Morris, "and ultimately moved up to little less than two million a week."
It was a total of $85 million, according to Morris -- the most expensive presidential TV ad campaign in U.S. history.
The president personally approved every ad. And, he personally pitched in -- even turning his own birthday into a fundraiser -- to raise the money.
This time big donors got intimate access, inside the White House. Democratic party officials selected guests for more than 100 White House coffees, then often asked the guests for money afterward. Guests gave a total of $27 million. Some even slept overnight in the Lincoln Bedroom.
There was a concerted drive to get money from prosperous Asians, a White House plan to raise $7 million from them and it was carried out by some of the president's old friends from Little Rock:
Huang, working for the Democratic Party, raised nearly $3.5 million from Asians. But he was careless of the law.
He brought in $250,000 from a South Korean company, but the contribution was illegal because the company had no business operations in the U.S.
When reporters exposed that, Democrats gave the money back.
Soon more questions were raised, and more money was returned, including several checks totaling $450,000 from an Indonesian man and his wife. He was not a mere "gardener" as some describe him, but in fact a resident of a mansion in Jakarta.
Also returned: $325,000 raised by Huang from an Indian man with Japanese business connections but no money of his own.
Huang raised $130,000 in connection with a visit last year by Vice President Al Gore to a California Buddhist temple, which now markets videos of the event. Gore says he did not know it was a fund-raiser.
The money was unprecedented. So was the access.
Jorge Cabrera, a convicted drug dealer who gave $20,000, posed with Gore and later was invited to a White House party. The Democratic National Committee had stopped making any checks on the backgrounds of donors.
Among those sipping White House coffee with the president was Wang Jun, a guest of Charlie Trie. Wang Jun heads a Chinese government company that was later charged with smuggling 2,000 AK-47 automatic rifles into the U.S.
Letting him in the White House was a mistake, the president later admitted. "We have to do a better job of screening people who come in and out of here," he said in December.
Another coffee sipper was Pauline Kanchanalak, a Thai businesswoman who brought five business associates to see the president while arranging more than $250,000 in donations, later returned.
Others at the White House coffees included a man wanted by Interpol, accused of fraud in Lebanon. He was a twice-convicted stock swindler, said by the FBI to have mob ties.
In an elegant Washington hotel, the president dined last July with Jim Riady, John Huang and three wealthy Taiwanese businessmen, their wives and children. That intimate dinner raised about $500,000.
Now Congress is investigating.
Was Washington for sale?
The president says donors got nothing they shouldn't. "What they get from me, I think, is a respectful hearing if they have some concern about issues," Clinton says. "I think it's a good thing when contributors care about the country and have some particular area of expertise they want to contribute. But nobody buys a guaranteed result."
There are no guarantees, perhaps. But donors do want influence.
John Huang wrote a memo saying Asian-American donors wanted to maintain an immigration preference that allows naturalized citizens to bring their brothers and sisters into the U.S. from their native countries. Huang said it was their "top priority." The donors later got what they wanted, though White House officials deny money was the reason.
Republicans have had their money problems, too. Michael Kojima gave a $500,000 to the GOP, and was later arrested while fleeing from creditors.
Another Republican, Simon Fireman, was fined a record $6 million last year for giving corporate money illegally to the Dole campaign.
But for sheer mystery and international intrigue there's nothing to equal the man in the middle -- John Huang, star of the Democrats' fund-raising troubles.
Huang raised money for the Clinton campaign way back in 1992, in California.
Now investigators want to know, why did Huang get nearly $880,000 from the Lippo Group, his old employer, when he left them to join the Clinton Administration? Lippo was founded by Riady's father and is trying to expand into the huge China market.
And how did Huang get a top-secret clearance without a full background check? He was born in China, and later was an officer in the Taiwanese Air Force. And what about his 37 classified briefings at the Commerce Department, and the more than 70 telephone calls he made to Lippo Bank of California?
What about Huang's contacts with the Chinese Embassy? His expense account shows he visited the residence of the Chinese ambassador. A report in The Washington Post says the Chinese Embassy in Washington was used for planning contributions to the Democratic Party.
And, when was Huang born exactly? 1941? Or 1945? He's signed documents stating it both ways.
For now, Huang isn't talking.
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