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Gavel To Gavel

Excerpts From The Senate Hearings (9/4/97)

Mitchell toon 'Toonist Bill Mitchell has located Al Gore's explanation for the temple fund-raiser.

Gavel To Gavel: Fund-Raising Hearings

Buddhist Nuns Admit Destroying Documents

Senate panel focuses on Gore's attendance at temple fund-raiser; Gore staffer David Strauss is expected to testify on Friday

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Sep. 4) -- Two Buddhist nuns who helped coordinate an April 1996 temple fund-raiser attended by Vice President Al Gore admitted today they destroyed a list of donors and other documents because they thought the information would embarrass the temple.

Man-Ho Shih, one of three nuns testifying today at the Senate campaign finance hearings, said she threw away a copy of her list of donors who gave a total of $45,000.

Asked why, Man-Ho said, "I'm afraid the document might cause embarrassment to the temple." The temple's administrative officer said she destroyed other documents too, in Fall 1996 after news stories about the now-infamous Hsi Lai Temple luncheon appeared.

Yi-Chu, the temple's bookkeeper, said she also destroyed documents and made new entries in the temple's books. "Developments were unfolding so fast that I was -- I really got nervous," she said. "See, I'm the bookkeeper of the temple, but I'm not a professional accountant. And for a lot of entries, I don't know how to deal with them. So I decided to destroy some of the documentation and make some new entries in the books."

Both Man-Ho and Yi-Chu said they acted on their own, and not at the direction of anyone else.

The nuns, dressed in brown robes, appeared on the first day of renewed campaign finance hearings by Sen. Fred Thompson's committee. In a written statement read by their attorney, Brian Sun, the nuns acknowledged the temple reimbursed members of the order who made $5,000 contributions to the Democrats, but said if the temple broke the law, it did not do so intentionally and none of the money came from overseas. (288K wav sound)

Tax-exempt religious organizations, like the temple, are not allowed to make political contributions. It is illegal for anyone to make political donations in someone else's name.

Gore's appearance at the fund-raiser has proven a major embarrassment for the vice president, but he also faces new Justice Department scrutiny on another front: his 46 fund-raising calls from the White House.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department said it was looking into those calls to determine whether his actions might trigger the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate.

Republicans on the Senate committee said the nuns' testimony clearly showed law-breaking and an attempt to hide the true source of contributions.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said the nuns were used by Democratic operatives and became "sort of pawns in the whole operation."

"You did something you didn't un