VXtreme video on demand: See Sen. Domenici turn up the heat on Sullivan about White House coffees.
White House Pushed DNC To Hire Huang
Senators grill Sullivan on Huang's hiring, White House coffees; Reno opposes immunity for Huang
By Craig Staats/AllPolitics
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, July 9) -- Under some tough questioning, the Democratic Party's former finance chief testified Wednesday that two calls from a top aide to President Bill Clinton led to the hiring of John Huang as a fund-raiser.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Janet Reno has come out against granting immunity to Huang in exchange for his testimony before the Senate panel probing fund-raising excesses in the 1996 presidential campaign.
In today's testimony, Richard Sullivan, who supervised Huang and oversaw the Democrats' 1996 fund-raising efforts, said two calls from Clinton's former deputy chief of staff, Harold Ickes, prompted Huang's hiring by the Democratic National Committee.
But Sullivan said he did not know whether Clinton had expressed a desire that the DNC hire Huang, a key figure in the fund-raising mess.
At day's end, Sen. Fred Thompson, who chairs the Senate panel, announced that Reno opposes granting immunity to Huang in exchange for his testimony. A meeting is set Friday between the committee's counsel and Huang's attorney to explore that possibility, though, and the committee is not bound by Reno's wishes. (288K wav sound)
Sullivan, a nervous and, at times, hesitant witness, told the committee he had no direct knowledge about any illegal overseas donations to the Democrats. A key part of the committee's investigation focuses on efforts by Chinese and Indonesian interests to illegally influence U.S. elections.
"I was never -- I emphasize never -- confronted at the time with any evidence or suggestion of willful misconduct, foreign government influence, sale of office, contributions in violation of the Federal Elections Campaign Act, or other legal problems of that kind," Sullivan said.
Sullivan conceded, though, that Republicans had a more effective method for checking whether donations were legal. He called the GOP system "more systematic, complex and thorough" than the Democrats'.
Senators grill witness on White House pressure
Sullivan came under hard questioning from Republicans on the committee, including Thompson and Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), on White House pressure to hire Huang at the DNC and the money that Democrats raised in connection with White House coffees.
Huang raised about half of the $3 million that Democrats have been forced to return because it came from unverifiable or questionable sources.
Sullivan said he was concerned about Huang because he came to the job without previous fund-raising experience in Senate, House or gubernatorial campaigns. Because of that, Sullivan said, he insisted Huang get extensive training immediately on starting the job.
The ex-party official also admitted to reservations about Johnny Chung, another Democratic contributor, after he pressed for help getting himself and some visiting Chinese businessmen in to one of Clinton's Saturday radio addresses. Sullivan said Chung insinuated he would make a $50,000 donation if allowed to attend.
Clinton indicates he relayed Huang's interest in raising money for the party
Attending a NATO summit in Madrid, Clinton said he may have mentioned Huang's name to party officials, but did not recall to whom he spoke.
"I believe that John Huang, at some point when I saw him in 1995, expressed an interest in going to work to try to help raise money for the Democratic Party, and I think I may have said to someone that he wanted to go to work for the DNC," Clinton told reporters.
"And I think it was, he said that to me and I relayed that to someone. I don't remember who I said it to. But I do believe I did say that to someone," Clinton said. "I wish I could tell you more, that's all I know about it."(384K wav sound)
Clinton said he would have referred almost anyone who volunteered.
"First of all, most people don't volunteer to help you raise money in this world," Clinton said. "It's normally an onerous task, and so with anybody [who] volunteered, I would have referred virtually anybody's name to the party. But I had some acquaintance with him for several years, going back to my service as governor, so I knew who he was."
Hard questions on White House coffees
While most of the Senate panel's questioning was polite, Domenici directly challenged Sullivan's account of White House coffees and their role in the Democrats' fund-raising operations. Domenici cited one memorandum that talked about a coffee get-together and the $400,000 revenue one document said it produced.
"Now if that coffee wasn't a fund-raiser, it sure did yield a lot of money," Domenici told Sullivan.
"Senator, the coffees were very helpful to our overall fund-raising goals," Sullivan replied. "They allowed us to get in people from around the country who had been supporters or we were hoping would be supporters ... "
"Mr. Sullivan, I normally love to hear you ramble on, but let me just stop you for a moment," Domenici interrupted. But Sullivan insisted the coffees were not fund-raisers. (11 min. VXtreme)
Sullivan, 33, became the party's finance director in the spring of 1995. He had been with the DNC for more than a year as director of its business fund-raising outreach groups, and, before that, raised funds for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Sullivan's low profile until now
Sullivan, who has kept a low profile up until now, is the first of 20 to 30 witnesses expected to appear before the committee. The panel has issued more than 180 subpoenas, but many are for bank and telephone records, not individuals' testimony.
Through July, members of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee are expected to focus on fund-raising excesses and the specter of overseas meddling in U.S. electoral politics, particularly by the People's Republic of China.
In its second phase this fall, the panel may look at deep-seated problems in the campaign finance system, including the question of unregulated "soft money" donations to parties and the rise of quasi-independent expenditures by advocacy groups.
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