The 'Inside Politics' Interview: Sen. Fred Thompson
Aired May 19, 1998 - 5:03 p.m. EDT
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Here in Washington, House Speaker Newt Gingrich is considering setting up a special committee to look into those new allegations involving China. Such a panel might have more information to work with than did the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which investigated the China connection during its campaign finance hearings last year.
The committee chairman, Senator Fred Thompson, Republican of Tennessee, joins us from Capitol Hill.
Senator Thompson, are these current allegations what you were referring to in that statement you made when you opened the Committee's hearings?
FRED THOMPSON (R-TN), GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS CHAIRMAN: Well, we didn't have that specific information on Mr. Chung, but we had strong indications that there were several people who were serving as intermediaries from China and the China area, funneling large sums of money into the Democratic National Committee. We had really conclusive proof. Our intelligence agencies did, that in mid-'95 the Chinese developed a plan at the highest levels of their government to involve themselves.
So you had in our electoral process. So you had the plan. You had people like Senator Moynihan briefed by the FBI and was told that the Chinese were planning to funnel money into his campaign and other congressional leaders, and you had strong indication that people like Mr. Chung, Maria Hsia and others who contributed large sums of money to the Democratic National Committee, that they had strong ties to the Chinese government.
WOODRUFF: Well, do you believe these current allegations that are just coming out in the last few days are connected to this plan at the highest levels of the Chinese government?
THOMPSON: Well, Judy, if you have a plan that you know about for a series of bank robberies, then banks start being robbed and you know that pursuant to that plan you think that there might be some connection. Now you have an individual coming forward coming forward saying that the bank that he robbed was pursuant, apparently, to that plan. So I believe that there is some connection.
But I think the main point is that the Democratic National Committee, and the Clinton/Gore campaign lowered all their barriers,
all their restrictions, that both campaigns had previously employed, to ferret out any contributions like this.
They had all these suspicious characters coming around, some of whom were not even American citizens, attending their fund-raisers in small and intimate groups. You had millions of dollars coming in from these people; unlimited access to the White House. Now they're taking the Fifth Amendment and fleeing the country. So I think that the American people are entitled to draw some logical conclusions from all that.
WOODRUFF: Senator, does it muddy the picture at all that several years earlier President Bush had already granted some waivers, in terms of letting the Chinese use U.S. satellite technology?
We know that the U.S. ambassador under President Bush, the U.S. ambassador to China said that the Chinese were leaning hard on him to get the administration to grant those waivers?
THOMPSON: Well, those are two separate issues all together, Judy. I think we should not immediately jump to the question, was there was a quid pro quo there? I'll give the president the benefit of the doubt. Surely, there was not.
I would not think any president we've ever had would do such a thing. Let's not overlook, though, what we do know about the campaign finance scandal, and the fact the Chinese were involved in our presidential campaign and our congressional campaigns.
THOMPSON: We have to look into those other issues to see whether or not there was justification for transferring that very sensitive technology to the Chinese, generally in about that same time period. But they are to separate issues altogether.
WOODRUFF: You're saying the separate -- the contributing to campaign is one thing, but whether the president did it for a direct quid pro quo, you're not prepared to say -- President Clinton I'm referring to.
THOMPSON: Of course not. We're going to be looking into the circumstances surrounding the waiver. There have been other waivers, as you've pointed out, under other circumstances. This just happens to be a particular waiver, a particular kind of technology, benefiting the people who made the contribution, apparently, as well as the Chinese government.
But as I say, I cannot bring myself to believe that there is a connection and I'm not just saying that. I have no reason to believe that. But there are very troubling circumstances that we have to look into, and see whether or not later on down the road if there was a connection there.
WOODRUFF: What about those people, senator, who say Johnny Chung really doesn't have very much credibility, given the fact he had to give back, what, $350,000? He's now seeking a way to get out of
serving time or as much time in jail. And after all, he's the one from whom these recent allegations began.
THOMPSON: Well, number one, what Mr. Chung apparently is saying is totally consistent with everything we learned in our investigation, although much of it was classified. Secondly, I see no reason he has to make the Chinese government angry at him.
WOODRUFF: Do you feel personally vindicated by all this, given that statement you made at the beginning?
THOMPSON: I don't think it's a matter of vindication. I have always known what I thought the facts were and where I thought the trail led, and now some additional facts are coming out that are public information. I had my hands on some classified information that I thought led to this result.
But now it's becoming public and I'm gratified for that, because I think -- and have for a very long time. I think it's a very serious matter. When you have a foreign government able to come into a presidential campaign like that, or congressional campaigns, when senators and our National Security Council are being briefed by the FBI and told there is such a plan afoot, and then we see all these circumstances and all these people -- intermediaries, bringing in millions of dollars from these Asian sources, taking the Fifth Amendment. We should have been asking these questions a long time ago. It should not have been Johnny Chung that sparked an interest in this matter.
WOODRUFF: Senator Fred Thompson, we thank you very much for joining us.
THOMPSON: Thank you.