WASHINGTON -- Besieged by disclosures involving campaign donors, President Clinton has ordered tighter screening of White House visitors after it was revealed that a Chinese arms dealer met with him at a private reception last winter.
Clinton said yesterday that it was "clearly inappropriate" that the Chinese official had gained entry to the event, a coffee for a small group of Democratic contributors on Feb. 6. The official, Wang Jun, was invited as a guest of Charles Yah Lin Trie, a Clinton friend and fund-raiser whose activities are part of a widening Justice Department investigation into Democratic campaign donations.
"I'm disappointed that it happened," Clinton said in response to a question after announcing the latest members of his Cabinet. "We must have better screening systems. We will have."
Less than four months after the White House reception, representatives of one of Wang's companies were charged with illegally smuggling 2,000 Chinese-made assault rifles into the United States. The arrests were part of a U.S. sting operation in which undercover agents posed as Miami gangsters.
Wang himself was not charged in the case. But those arrested included executives of Poly Technologies Inc., described as a major international arms merchant. The company is a unit of Poly Group, which Wang chairs.
Wang was identified to the Democratic Party officials who helped arrange the White House event only by his principal occupation, as head of the China International Trade and Investment Corp., a party spokeswoman told the Washington Post, which first disclosed Wang's visit.
Clinton said he remembered "literally nothing" about the February meeting. "I have no recollection of meeting him," he added. "I'm not sure he ever said anything, and I can tell you for sure nothing inappropriate came from it, in terms of any governmental action on my part."
Polls show that Clinton is enjoying a post-election honeymoon with the public. But the questions about fund raising are growing.
The president acknowledged yesterday that he was "very displeased" about the stream of allegations involving improper fund raising by the Democratic Party.
"I show up for work every day," Clinton replied when a reporter asked how he was coping with the prospect of starting a second term under the shadow of investigations by Congress, an independent counsel and his own Justice Department. "You know, the American people ought to feel good about me. [Congress and the independent counsel have] spent $30 million or something, and there's been not a single, solitary shred of evidence of any wrongdoing on my part. I feel good about it.
"How am I coping? It's not a problem," he added. "If you haven't done anything wrong and a problem comes up, you fix it and you go on."
Clearly uncomfortable with the line of discussion, Clinton called an abrupt halt to the session after taking three questions. "I'll see you early next year," he said.
This month, a Justice Department task force issued subpoenas to the White House and to Clinton's legal defense fund for records about Democratic fund-raisers and contributors.
One of those listed on the subpoena is Trie, an Arkansas businessman and restaurateur whom Clinton described warmly this week as an old friend. Trie, who ran a Chinese restaurant in Little Rock, Ark., that Clinton frequented and who now has business interests in China and other countries, tried to deliver more than $600,000 to Clinton's legal defense fund since March.
The money was returned after fund officials became suspicious about the true source of the contributions. Trie, 48, who has refused to discuss his activities with reporters, was appointed to a presidential advisory commission on Asian trade in April and was a guest at a White House reception as recently as last week.
Mike McCurry, the White House spokesman, said that Trie might still be invited to White House social events in the future. "But as someone participating in a political meeting or a fund-raising-related meeting, I would have to imagine he probably would not be invited," he said.
Pub Date: 12/21/96