WASHINGTON -- Revealing their first piece of concrete evidence that foreign money was funneled to the Democratic Party, senators investigating campaign fund-raising abuses showed yesterday that illegal funds from Asia entered the U.S. political money stream as early as 1992.
In an August 1992 memo, John Huang -- at the time a U.S. official for the Indonesia-based Lippo Group -- asked the home office in Jakarta to "please kindly wire" money to cover expenses that included a $50,000 contribution to the Democratic National Committee Victory Fund.
Along with the memo, Republicans on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee produced a copy yesterday of a $50,000 Lippo Bank check, dated Aug. 12, 1992, made out to the "DNC Victory Fund Federal Account."
Democratic Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut said the memo was "pretty clear evidence" that foreign money entered American elections in 1992.
Election laws prohibit contributions to American political campaigns from foreigners or foreign corporations. The DNC decided yesterday to return the $50,000 contribution based on the information presented by the committee, a spokesman said.
New documents released by the committee also showed that top Democratic officials tried to arrange a meeting for a British citizen and resident of Hong Kong -- who, with his American wife, contributed $100,000 to the Democratic party in 1995 -- with the Clinton administration's top national security officials.
The contributor, Eric Hotung, wanted to discuss "policy options" regarding Taiwan and other China-related issues with the officials, states the memo from then-DNC Chairman Donald Fowler to the White House political director.
A White House official confirmed that such a meeting was arranged for Hotung, a Hong Kong businessman.
Hotung met for five minutes with then-deputy national security adviser Samuel R. Berger -- now President Clinton's top national security adviser -- in October 1995 and had a lengthier meeting with national security aide Robert L. Suettinger, said an administration official.
"The documents set forth pretty clear evidence that a foreign citizen, I think through his wife, offered to make a $100,000 contribution in exchange for assistance arranging a meeting with a top official," said Republican Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, the committee chairman.
White House special counsel Lanny Davis said the administration does not consider the meeting with Berger inappropriate.
'No truth' to suggestion
"There is no truth to the suggestion that the meeting with Mr. Berger, or with anyone else at the White House for that matter, was in exchange for a campaign contribution," Davis said. "Mr. Berger had no knowledge of any contributions or promise of contributions by Mr. Hotung."
As the Senate committee entered its second week of hearings, Lieberman supported a charge made by Thompson last week that the Chinese government sought to influence U.S. elections in 1996 with an infusion of money.
FBI officials briefed most members of the committee Monday on evidence related to China's activities after some Democrats took issue with Thompson's statement, saying the committee chairman went too far in his conclusions.
Lieberman said yesterday that, having listened to the FBI presentation, "I conclude that there was, in fact, a Chinese government plan to move money into America's congressional elections last year with the clear intent to affect American policy toward China."
BTC He said it was unclear if the plan was implemented, and that Democrats and Republicans still disagree as to whether the Chinese plan involved the presidential election.
Thompson said last week that although the plan focused on congressional races, it "affected" the presidential race as well. Lieberman said yesterday he thought there was "insubstantial" evidence to support that claim.
GOP picture of Huang
Through several witnesses yesterday, Republicans sought to portray Huang, who worked for the Commerce Department and the DNC after leaving Lippo, as a highly paid agent of an international conglomerate closely tied to the Chinese government and interested in influencing U.S. policy.
Thomas R. Hampson, president of Search International Inc., which provides research on foreign companies, said Lippo shifted its business focus in the last five years from Indonesia to the People's Republic of China.
The once-privately owned conglomerate is a partner with China Resources, a Chinese government trade promotion company involved in economic and political espionage, said Hampson.
"The company is like a smiling tiger," Hampson said of China Resources.
"It might look friendly, but it's very dangerous."
Under questioning from Democrats, Hampson acknowledged his conclusions came from media reports, not firsthand investigation.
In trying to show that Huang continued his close relationship with Lippo even after joining the administration in 1994, Republicans produced records showing many calls from Huang's Silver Spring home and Commerce Department office to the Lippo Bank.
Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine said there were more than 400 phone contacts between Huang and various Lippo entities. Collins also produced a copy of a form for attendees at a World Bank seminar in April 1996, when Huang was a DNC fund-raiser. The application, made in Huang's name, states that he is an "adviser" to the Lippo Group.
"This incident, like the 400 phone calls, raises the question in my mind: For whom is Mr. Huang really working?" she said.
The contribution returned by the DNC yesterday came from Hip Hing Holdings, a U.S. subsidiary of the Lippo Group. Juliana Utomo, a former Hip Hing employee, testified that the company's sole asset was a parking lot in Los Angeles, and that the company lost $482,000 in 1992, the year it made the $50,000 contribution to the DNC.
Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi said yesterday's testimony pointed to Huang's experience "in raising money and in laundering money."
Pub Date: 7/16/97