Immunity For Buddhist Nuns?
Senate panel considering immunity to gain testimony on Buddhist fund-raiser; Thompson rips Justice Department
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, July 22) -- After a closed-door session, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday postponed a vote on whether to grant immunity to four nuns to gain their testimony about that infamous Buddhist temple fund-raiser.
Chairman Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) announced that the panel has asked its staff to look into some matters on the immunity question, and he now expects the immunity votes to take place on Wednesday.
Thompson blasted the Justice Department, saying he no longer has confidence in the department's impartiality. He said the department's refusal to go along with a grant of immunity for several nuns is "extremely, extremely troubling."
'Hopeless conflict of interest'
Thompson said the department has become politicized and its refusal is a "hopeless conflict of interest." (256K wav sound)
So far, the Justice Department has denied Senate requests for immunity grants for 15 prospective witnesses, but given the go-ahead for 11 others, according to a department official.
The official, who asked not to be quoted by name, revealed the numbers after rejecting Thompson's complaints of obstructionism. The official said the department agrees to grants of immunity "when we reach the point that immunity would not damage prosecutions."
The Justice official said that had been determined to be the case in 11 of the 26 requests received through the end of last week. The official said it was possible immunity may be approved by Justice in some of the remaining 15 cases.
Monks and nuns
Four of the potential witnesses for whom immunity is being considered are monks and nuns from the controversial Hsi Lai Temple event in April 1996, which Vice President Al Gore attended.
In addition, the Senate panel is discussing immunity for a Virginia government employee whose donations to the Democrats appear to be more than her resources could support.
The five are Yi Chu, a temple bookkeeper; Man Ho, a temple administrative assistant; temple Abbess Suh Jen Wu; Man Ya Shi, also associated with the temple; and Keshi Zahn, an associate of ex-Democratic fund-raiser Charles Yah Lin Trie who gave $12,500 to the Democratic National Committee.
While some Republicans on the panel want the nuns' testimony, committee sources say prosecutors have told them that three of the four were more than just innocent pawns in the temple's scheme to hide the true source of donations to the Democratic Party.
Limited immunity bars the use of a witness' congressional testimony in a criminal prosecution.
While the Justice Department opposes immunity for these witnesses, the Senate committee can ignore the Justice Department's advice if it so chooses. A grant of immunity would require the support of all the Republicans and two Democrats on the panel, since a two-thirds vote is required.
Public testimony in the Senate's probe is due to resume at 10 a.m. EDT on Wednesday.
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