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Jewish World Review Aug. 9, 1999 /27 Av 5759

Morton Kondracke

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GOP must launch new probe of Chinagate -- IT SMELLS. Despite abundant evidence that Democratic fund-raisers channeled Chinese government money into the U.S. election campaign in 1996, no one is going to jail.

One by one, Attorney General Janet Reno's Justice Department has cut generous plea bargains with the money launderers and hasn't come near prosecuting any Democratic Party or White House officials.

And if there is any connection between Chinese money and cozy Clinton policy toward China, it's unlikely to be discovered as Justice lets the fund-raisers off and removes their incentive to talk.

Today, one of the major figures in Chinagate, John Huang, is scheduled to be sentenced to a fine and community service after pleading guilty to minor charges having nothing to do with the $1.6 million he raised that the Democratic Party was forced to return. Instead, the Justice Department charged him with making two illegal donations worth $7,500 in two California campaigns in 1993 and 1994.

Huang formerly was an employee of the Indonesian Lippo Group, which does big business in China. While an official of the Commerce Department with a top-secret clearance, he allegedly made mysterious phone calls to his former employer. Then he was a Democratic fund-raiser with close ties to the White House.

In spite of all the tantalizing investigative leads Huang represents -- and in spite of his utter refusal to cooperate in congressional Chinagate investigations -- Justice is closing out its probe of Huang with a slap on the wrist and a promise to bring no further charges against him.

Later this month, Justice is scheduled to close the books, too, on President Clinton's friend, Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie, who raised more than $1.3 million -- mainly from Asia -- that had to be returned.

He, too, has refused to cooperate with Congress, yet was permitted to plead guilty to one felony count of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission. The charge carries a maximum sentence of up to six years in prison and fines of $350,000, but prosecutors recommended that Trie get a penalty of three years' probation.

The third major Chinagate fund-raiser, Johnny Chung, was sentenced in December 1998 to probation and community service. But at least Chung did cooperate with Congress, relating how a Chinese general of military intelligence told him, "we really like your president" and "we hope he will be re-elected," and channeled $300,000 to him, $35,000 of which he gave to the Democratic National Committee.

Chung also wore an FBI body wire when an emissary of the general warned him to keep his mouth shut and to especially conceal China's interest in doing business with U.S. space technology firms.

Chung's testimony demonstrates that Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., was not wrong in 1997 when he alleged -- to much hooting from Democrats -- that China attempted to influence the 1996 U.S. elections.

What's disturbing is that Thompson and other Republican leaders haven't kept energetically digging into the finance scandal, leaving the work to a few journalists, right-wing activists and Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., who's easily dismissed for hyper-partisanship. Last week, Burton blasted Reno for presiding over an investigation that "has been grossly derelict in getting the facts" and cutting "sweetheart deals for presidential friends."

Burton is pursuing some interesting avenues, such as a report by Carl Cameron of Fox News that a former crack federal prosecutor in California, Steven Mansfield, was ordered to halt a probe he started in 1996 into Vice President Al Gore's infamous fund-raiser at a Buddhist temple.

Cameron reported that Mansfield, who successfully prosecuted former Rep. Jay Kim, R-Calif., was ordered to desist in a letter from Lee Radek, head of the public integrity section of the Justice Department, on grounds that it was a matter for an independent counsel to investigate. However, no independent counsel was ever appointed -- with Radek reportedly one of those most vociferously urging Reno not to take that step.

Burton also has been chasing down evidence, also reported by Cameron, that in 1997 the Justice Department ordered the immediate return to Washington of an FBI agent and prosecutor, sent to Little Rock, Ark., to stop documents from being shredded by Trie's secretary.

And Burton charges that, for two years, the Justice Department failed to follow up on information it had about the wire transfer of $300,000 to Chung through a Citibank account of Liu Chaoying, a Chinese military officer, aerospace executive and daughter of China's former military chief.

Burton has appealed to Reno and to federal judges in Little Rock and California to hold off the sentencing of Trie and Huang to give them an incentive to testify before his Government Reform Committee.

Chances are, the fund-raisers will get off. The former chief counsel in Thompson's 1997 campaign finance probe, Michael Madigan, said that the plea bargains have "all the earmarks of something being swept under the rug."

Indeed, they do. Before the evidence disappears, congressional Republicans need to create a select committee to get to the bottom of Chinagate and see whether U.S. policy was bought for campaign cash.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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