Gavel To Gavel

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Gavel To Gavel: Fund-Raising Hearings

Will The Hearings Find Out Who Did What?

By Brooks Jackson/CNN

WASHINGTON (July 7) -- Washington's fund-raising controversy isn't so much a "whodunnit" as a "done what"? At the center of the allegations of campaign illegalities are former Democratic fund-raisers John Huang and Charles Yah Lin Trie, and also President Bill Clinton. But what exactly have they done?

Huang, of course, is the chief suspect, a frequent White House visitor, and so-called "Friend of Bill." The president has often been shown in TV clips praising his "longtime friend John Huang for being so effective."


He has turned out to be some friend, though. Huang has played hide-and-seek with reporters since money he raised for Democrats turned out to be illegal. His lawyer says he'll invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if called to testify.

What did he do? Some Republicans suspect espionage.

Says House Speaker Newt Gingrich, "We owe the American people the right to know what happened. They have the right to know whether or not the American government was undermined by the Chinese."

Huang was born in this South China province and did work for Indonesia's Lippo Group, which does have business partnerships with China's government. He did have a top-secret clearance and received classified briefings when he worked in Clinton's Commerce Department. He often phoned former Lippo associates from his office. But so far, there is no hard evidence Huang betrayed the U.S., his adopted country.

There were illegalities. Huang set up a Buddhist temple fund-raiser last year where contributors gave money that wasn't their own. But Democrats theorize Huang was just too eager to please the president, clumsy and careless of the law. He raised $3.4 million for Democrats, but they gave back $1.6 million of that.


Spy or bungler? Based on what's know so far, either theory could be correct. At every turn in this sprawling and formless money story there are competing theories to explain the known facts. Some are sinister, others benign, but few are yet proven.

What about Charles Trie, another Clinton friend, now hiding out from investigators, possibly in China? Trie operated from Washington's Watergate complex, raising big money for the Democrats. They returned $645,000, uncertain of the real source.

Did it come from the Chinese government, as some suspect? Or was the money that Trie's partner wired him from Macao, legitimate business payments? That's not yet known, and Trie's partner won't talk either.

It's the same with several others, including business executives Ted Sioeng, Johnny Chung and Pauline Kanchanalak. There are lots of suspicious bank records, but nobody's talking.


Did Clinton do any favors for big donors like Lebanese businessman Roger Tamraz? Tamraz gave Democrats $177,000 while lobbying the president and the Energy Department to support a pipeline project. In the end Tamraz got access, but no official support.

One Republican theory that hasn't held up too well is that only Democrats broke the law. Republicans have returned $122,000 to a Hong Kong businessman, saying it was illegal. Another $2.1 million is still under investigation.

There are lots of theories and not enough facts. And insiders caution that this first round of Senate hearings may produce more questions than answers.

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