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Huang's Lippo Contacts Raise Questions

Senators wonder about Huang's Lippo contacts while at Commerce

By Craig Staats/AllPolitics

WASHINGTON (July 17) -- John Huang left his Commerce Department office regularly to pick up faxes and use the telephone at a nearby investment banking firm's office, according to testimony at today's Senate campaign finance hearings.

Huang, a former Democratic fund-raiser, is a key figure in the Senate's probe of campaign finance abuses and the illegal movement of overseas money into the U.S. political arena.

Some senators have suggested that Huang, who attended CIA briefings while at Commerce, may have passed sensitive information to contacts in the Lippo Group conglomerate, which in turn has close ties with the Chinese government.

Paula V. Greene, the day's first witness, testified that Huang used a spare office at Stephens Inc., a Little Rock-based investment banking house, sometimes visiting two or three times a week. Greene was a secretary at the Stephens office, just across Pennsylvania Avenue from the Department of Commerce headquarters.

Of people outside the Stephens firm, Greene said Huang was the most frequent user of the spare office.

"Yes, John Huang would use it the most," Greene said.

Greene was not able to shed much light, though, on Huang's activities during his visits. She said she did not find his use of the spare office unusual, and said she was not in a position to see whether he often used the telephone or sent out faxes.

The company kept no record of outgoing faxes, and Greene said she noticed nothing on incoming faxes for Huang that might suggest whether they were from overseas.

She did testify that her boss, Vernon Weaver, often asked her to call Huang on his behalf. "He [Weaver] did not want his name to appear on the [Commerce Department] logs very frequently," Greene said.

Republican suggested a covert purpose to Huang's visits to the firm, while Democrats said he might have simply been doing personal business. There is no evidence that Huang leaked any of the secret information he got from CIA briefers as a Commerce Department employee.

A committee investigator, John H. Cobb, described a pattern of telephone calls that Huang made to Lippo sources from his office, from the Stephens office, and from Huang's homes in suburban Washington and California.

Cobb said telephone records indicate "a fairly extensive range of contacts" with Lippo during the time Huang worked at the Commerce Department.

But Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) accused Cobb of overstating the evidence, noting there is evidence that many of the calls were purely social.

Late in the afternoon, the Senate committee went into a closed-door session to discuss whether to grant immunity to five people associated with the infamous Buddhist temple fund-raiser in Californa attended by Vice President Al Gore.

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