Gavel To Gavel

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Gavel To Gavel: Fund-Raising Hearings

Republicans Dig In

GOP senators apply more pressure to the former DNC finance director, but he gives up little

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, July 10) -- Former Democratic National Committee finance director Richard Sullivan faced more pointed questioning from Republicans during his second day on the witness stand in the Senate's fund-raising investigation. While he grew flustered at times, the 33-year-old Sullivan stayed tight-lipped, downplaying concerns about former fund-raiser John Huang.

Tennessee Republican Sen. Fred Thompson, chairman of the proceedings, suggested Sullivan's sometimes vague testimony was not consistent with sworn depositions he had given earlier. "I'm having a hard time understanding what you are saying in light of what you said before," Thompson told him.

He pursued Sullivan on whether the DNC had given special attention to Huang's training needs. "You were asked the question, 'Was it unusual to make such a big point with a new fund-raiser having, needing to have, extensive training?' ... You said this situation with Mr. Huang in your deposition was unusual," Thompson said.

But Sullivan maintained his concerns about Huang grew out the fact that Democrats had no track record in outreach efforts to the Asian community. "We were nervous, we wanted to make sure we were abiding by the law," he said.

New Hampshire Republican Sen. Bob Smith charged that Sullivan's deposition was "directly at odds" with DNC General Counsel Joseph Sandler's statement that Huang had not received extra training.

"Senator, you have my testimony," Sullivan said.

Still, both Republicans and Democrats at today's session continued to treat Sullivan deferentially.

"If I had had any inclination that John Huang would raise foreign money, I would have personally walked him to the elevator and out of the building," Sullivan said.

Responded the chairman, "That's pretty definitive."

Sullivan acknowledged that Huang had pressured him to allow Thai businesswoman Pauline Kanchanalak, whose $235,000 in donations to the DNC was returned, to attend a White House coffee with five executives from a Thai conglomerate in June 1996.

He didn't like the "political appearance of three foreigners in one of these coffees," and was "concerned it wasn't a good use of the coffee," Sullivan recounted.

Sullivan said he and DNC finance chairman Marvin Rosen barred Huang at a certain point from organizing any events involving the president because Huang's events had raised too much soft money and not enough federal dollars, or "hard money," that the party urgently needed at that time. Sullivan said it was not because he was concerned that Huang was raising illegal overseas money.

On Wednesday, Sullivan insisted the 107 White House coffees were not fund-raising events "per se." That drew the ire of Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma, who pointed out that coffee attendees had donated some $27 million to the Democratic Party.

"That was a pretty successful fund-raising effort, wasn't it?" Nickles demanded. Sullivan responded, "It sure the hell was."

Taking issue with GOP criticism of the White House coffees, Democratic Sen. Carl Levin described a 1995 GOP function attended by prospective donors at the Library of Congress. As with the coffees, no direct solicitation took place at the event, Levin said, noting, "It's a very important difference which is followed by both parties."

Thompson barraged Sullivan with questions about an Asian-American donor to the DNC, Johnny Chung, who invited six Chinese businessmen to the White House to view the president delivering a radio address, and later handed a $50,000 check to the first lady's chief of staff, Margaret Williams.

"Were you concerned when Mr. Chung wanted to go into the radio address? Were you concerned that he might have been taking money from the Chinese and giving it to the DNC?" Thompson asked.

"Yes, that was one of my concerns," Sullivan said.

Later, Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Arlen Specter noted Chung made the $50,000 donation only days after $150,000 had been wired to his bank account by the Bank of China.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine revealed that the committee has evidence of two wire transfers totaling $500,000 from a Japanese bank to the account of Democratic donor Yogesh Gandhi. Later, he gave the DNC $325,000, but Democrats were forced to return the money to Gandhi after newspaper accounts showed he did not have the resources to make such a contribution.

Collins also disclosed that Gandhi is now invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination, after being scheduled to testify before the panel next week.

At the hearing's outset, ranking Democrat John Glenn of Ohio, complained to Thompson that Sullivan's deposition had been leaked to the press, saying the damage to the committee was "considerable."

Thompson countered that Republicans had their own grievances about being excluded from immunity discussions between Democratic staffers and Huang's attorney, despite an agreement to keep each side apprised of important developments.

In a news briefing this morning, Attorney General Janet Reno declined to explain the reasons for her opposition to granting Huang immunity for his testimony before the panel.

Separately, China again denied any attempts to influence U.S. elections. "Some people in the United States, out of domestic political needs, are out of thin air once again slandering China with accusation that it is involved in the so-called political donations. This is completely groundless," Foreign Ministry spokesman Tan Guoqiang declared in Beijing today. On Tuesday, Thompson said the committee had evidence of such a plan.

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