Wu's White House Visits
Mysterious Chinese businessman Wu visited White House 10 times in two years; head of Clintons' legal trust says he wasn't initially suspicious of Trie
By Thomas H. Moore/AllPolitics
WASHINGTON (July 30) -- An angry Sen. Fred Thompson, chairman of the Senate panel investigating campaign finance abuses, announced today that White House documents turned over to Congress say the mysterious Chinese businessman Ng Lap Seng, also known as "Mr. Wu," visited the White House 10 times between June 1994 and October 1996.
Ng, a wealthy business partner of campaign-finance figure Charlie Trie, has been referred to during the campaign finance hearings as "Mr. Wu," the Mandarin version of his name. He is a Chinese citizen with businesses based in Macau, a Portuguese colony on China's southwest coast, and is suspected of being the source of hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal donations to the Democratic National Committee.
Thompson complained bitterly about White House delays in producing documents and depositions, and said that the information on Wu's White House visits would have been useful in Tuesday's testimony from an FBI agent who investigated Trie and Wu. The documents, turned over late Tuesday night, were requested by the committee months ago.
"We have tried to work with the White House," Thompson said. "We have tried to do it in private. We've tried to do it attorney to attorney in a responsible manner. We have objected on several occasions that they were trying to manipulate the press and us by waiting until testimony had happened before relevant documents had been produced. Supposedly, then, the story would become old news ... and the same thing with regard to depositions. We're not going to tolerate that."
The committee is hearing testimony this week about the activities of Trie, an Arkansas friend of President Bill Clinton's who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Democratic Party and Clinton's legal defense fund, all of which had to be returned later.
The panel heard today from Michael Cardozo, the executive director of the president's legal trust. Cardozo testified that when he received $460,000 in checks and money orders from Trie in March 1996, he was more concerned about where the money came from, not in knowing more about Trie, the "messenger."
The panel's Republicans wanted to know why he didn't raise a louder alarm to the White House that funds brought in by Trie were suspect, and why the investigation he ordered to look into suspect gifts did not also delve into Trie's background.
Cardozo testified that when Trie arrived at his office with checks and money orders from more than 400 Asian-American contributors, he immediately returned $70,000 that on their face did not meet the trust's guidelines.
Cardozo met with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Deputy White House Chief of Staff Harold Ickes in April 1996 to brief them on the gift, and to see if Trie's story about being a friend of the president's checked out. He said Mrs. Clinton didn't recognize Trie's name without some prompting, and she urged them to be "vigilant" in checking the contributions.
At the time, Cardozo said, the Clintons' outstanding legal bills amounted to more than $1.5 million, and the money Trie brought in was 40 to 50 percent of the total amount the trust had raised.
Cardozo also said that Ickes, who was taking notes at the meeting, did not react upon mention of Trie's name. Republican counsel Mark Tipps noted that Trie had told Cardozo that he was organizing a major Asian-American fund-raiser for the president at about the same time he brought the initial batch of checks in -- implying that Ickes should have been aware of who Trie was, and should have been suspicious about money Trie was raising for the Democratic Party.
A Bag Of Money And Novelties
Cardozo also told the panel that Trie made a second visit, with a large bag that Trie said contained an additional $179,000. Cardozo said that when he first saw the bag, he thought, "Oh, my God, he's got a million dollars this time!"
But not everything in the bag was money, apparently. What else was in there, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) wanted to know. Cardozo said Trie had piled a number of novelty items in the bag that he was hoping Cardozo's firm could help him sell, items that when struck expanded into Coca-Cola containers or football seat cushions.
Cardozo did not accept the money, telling Trie that the trust was still looking into the first batch of gifts. Nor did he agree to help sell the novelties.
Eventually, the trust returned all the money Trie brought in after finding that some money orders had sequential numbers, that some appeared to have identical handwriting, and several had similar errors, such as "presidential" spelled "presidencial," although the money was purportedly from people in different cities.
The trust's investigation suggested that the money likely came not from the individuals, but from Taiwanese religious sect leader Suma Ching Hai.
Cardozo also said that the defense fund trust changed its voluntary disclosure procedures so that the return of Trie's money would not be disclosed to the press. He maintained the change was made out of concern for the privacy of the contributors -- not out of concern about the upcoming election or as the result of any White House pressure. Cardozo said that at no time did he feel pressure from White House officials to accept the money.
The return of the money and the Trie connection was not revealed until December, after the elections and well after questions about Charlie Trie's fund-raising had been raised in the news media.
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