Gavel To Gavel

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Gavel To Gavel: Fund-Raising Hearings

Thompson Unsure About Testimony From Clinton, Gore

The president took a personal interest in Huang becoming a fund-raiser, Democratic officials say

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, July 7) -- A day before Senate hearings are set to begin into alleged campaign fund-raising abuses, the chairman of those proceedings won't speculate on whether he'll seek the testimony of President Bill Clinton or Vice President Al Gore. Meanwhile, new revelations surfaced about former Democratic fund-raiser John Huang.

Asked whether he would act on suggestions that Clinton and Gore be asked to testify, Tennessee Republican Fred Thompson told ABC's "This Week" that "I haven't addressed that and the [Governmental Affairs] committee has not addressed that. It's premature to get into that. I know others have, but I choose not to at this stage."

Leading the list of the 30 to 40 witnesses expected to testify are former White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes, presidential advisor Bruce Lindsey and the first lady's chief of staff, Margaret Williams.

Notably absent from that list is Huang, who has cited his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Some $3 million in questionable donations he raised for the Democrats has put Huang at the center of the fund-raising controversy.

Born in China but a naturalized U.S. citizen for over 20 years, Huang has longstanding ties to Clinton. The New York Times reported today that the president pressured DNC finance chairman Marvin S. Rosen in November 1995 to hire Huang as a fund-raiser.

And according to The Washington Post, Senate investigators are scrutinizing a real estate holding company owned by Huang, suspecting it may have been a front for funneling some $79,000 from abroad into Democratic coffers.

Investigators suspect the contributions were illegal because records indicate that the real-estate company, Hip Hing Holdings of California, did not generate enough U.S. income to account for the contributions. The company also received injections of cash from Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.

Whether foreign money was allowed to influence U.S. elections is a central focus of Thompson's probe, which is expected to continue for weeks, perhaps even months. Beset by partisan wrangling, the investigation has gotten off to a rocky start, and over the weekend Thompson downplayed suggestions he is presiding over a political witch hunt, while seeking to provide a concise description of what investigators are looking into.

"There have been millions of dollars that have been returned in campaign funds, presumably illegal campaign money," Thompson told ABC. "We know that Mister Huang was involved in some or most of that. And the question is -- one of the questions -- who knew about that? Another question is who should have known about that? And another is who tried to perhaps cover that information up?"

Another elusive figure in the fund-raising controversy is Arkansas businessman and fund-raiser Charlie Yah Lin Trie, now sequestered in China. To get his cooperation, as well as Huang's, House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested offering them immunity from further prosecution.

"I think that finding out what happened is far more important than sending people to jail," he told CBS' "Face The Nation" on Sunday. About Clinton and Gore, Gingrich commented, "At some point they are going to have to answer questions in some form."

Democrats have sought to shift some attention onto allegations of GOP fund-raising abuses, while warning Republicans on the committee are abusing their majority status.

Ohio's Sen. John Glenn, the ranking Democrat on Thompson's committee, also made appearances on weekend talk shows, noting that while 163 GOP-backed subpoenas had been authorized, only 24 of 58 subpoenas requested by the Democrats had been approved.

Meanwhile, in an escalation of partisan warfare in the House funds probe, Rep. Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, has sent a letter to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, asking the speaker "discontinue the House investigation."

Citing the resignation last week of the committee's chief attorney, Waxman took aim at the committee's chairman, Dan Burton of Indiana, saying, "I believe the House should defer to Senator Thompson, who appears to be conducting a more comprehensive and bipartisan effort, instead of wasting millions of taxpayer dollars on an identical but mistake-plagued House investigation."

Gingrich and Burton have yet to respond.

CNN's Bob Franken contributed to this report.

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