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GOP Questions Source of $325,000By Edward Walsh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 11, 1997; Page A04
Former Democratic National Committee finance director Richard Sullivan withstood a second day of questioning by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee yesterday at a hearing in which Republicans disclosed the apparent source of two of the more mysterious contributions to President Clinton's reelection effort last year.
Yogesh K. Gandhi, the head of a California foundation who claims to be the great-grandnephew of the late Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi, contributed $325,000. But according to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and documents released by GOP staff aides, a few days after Gandhi made the contribution, he received a total of $500,000 in two wire transfers from an account in a Japanese branch of a U.S. bank that was held by Yoshio Tanaka, a Japanese business associate of Gandhi.
Republican committee aides said the two wire transfers of $250,000 each were clearly the source of the Gandhi contribution and that they did not know what happened to the remaining $175,000 that was not contributed. But Democratic aides countered with copies of Gandhi's bank records that they said showed his account regularly received large deposits by wire transfer.
Gandhi, who made the contribution after attending a Democratic fund-raising event that was attended by Clinton, has been a largely peripheral figure in the morass of questionable campaign fund-raising practices that led to the investigation by two congressional committees and a Justice Department task force. Sullivan, who reiterated that he had no knowledge of illegal contributions from foreign sources, was not even questioned about the Gandhi contribution.
The second contribution, of $50,000, was made by Democratic fund-raiser Johnny Chung, who was allowed to take five Chinese businessmen to the White House to watch Clinton make one of his regular Saturday morning radio broadcasts. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) disclosed that three days before Chung made the contribution, $150,000 was transferred into his bank account from the Bank of China, but Specter provided no other details.
Amid these disclosures, yesterday's hearing went over familiar ground, with Republicans questioning Sullivan on the circumstances surrounding the hiring of former Commerce Department official John Huang as a DNC fund-raiser, whether White House coffees for contributors with Clinton were illegal fund-raising events in a government facility and whether Vice President Gore knew that an event he attended at a Buddhist temple in California was a fund-raiser.
Throughout the day, the soft-spoken Sullivan did not budge from his previous assertions on these issues. Near the end of the day, Sen. Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.) said his two days of testimony had produced no evidence to support the opening charge of committee Chairman Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.) that there is an ongoing plan by the Chinese government to undermine the U.S. political system, in part through the use of illegal campaign contributions.
Huang is a central figure in the web of questionable fund-raising practices leading up to the 1996 election. Under questioning by Thompson, who was more aggressive than he had been on Wednesday, Sullivan said that his acknowledged concern about how Huang would conduct himself at the DNC was because of Huang's lack of experience and not because he thought Huang would seek contributions from foreign sources, which are banned by U.S. election laws.
"If I had any inclination that John Huang would raise foreign money, I would have personally walked him to the elevator and walked him out of the building," he said.
Sullivan also said Huang was not removed from responsibility for coordinating fund-raising events that Clinton attended because of concern about foreign money. Rather, he said, DNC officials were dissatisfied with the amount Huang was raising in small individual contributions, which are matched by the federal government, and worried about an "appearance" problem because Huang often had foreign nationals at fund-raising events, even though they could not legally contribute to the party.
Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) raised the name of Roger Tamraz, an Egyptian-born U.S. citizen and Democratic contributor who has been charged with embezzlement from a Lebanese bank. Bennett produced a memo written by Gore's staff that described Tamraz as an "American citizen with a shady and untrustworthy reputation" who should not be allowed to meet with senior administration officials
Bennett asked Sullivan why, despite this warning, Tamraz was later invited to the White House four times. Sullivan said he relayed the memo's warning to the "appropriate people" at the DNC and "obviously he was invited" anyway.
"At the very least, all the safeguards broke down regularly and seriously at the DNC," Bennett said.
At the hearings, which are to resume Tuesday, it was also disclosed yesterday that an associate of Huang's who also raised substantial sums of money for the DNC, Charles Yah Lin Trie, received a wire transfer of $149,985 from a Bank of China account in Hong Kong around the time he made large contributions to the DNC last year. Sullivan said he did not know the source of the Trie donations.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company