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Huang Cannot Be Given 'Partial Immunity' for Testimony, Senate Chairman SaysBy George Lardner Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 14, 1997; Page A06
Sen. Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.) said yesterday Democratic fund-raiser John Huang cannot be given "partial immunity" for his testimony on campaign financing abuses and the issue should be put aside until further Senate investigation of his activities.
"There's no such thing as partial immunity," Thompson said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We'd have to give complete and total immunity." He said he is willing to listen to any lawyer "who wants to come in and convince us why his client should be absolved of all prosecutions." But, he said, this should be done "after we've completed our investigation in these areas, so we know better what the truth is."
Huang's lawyer, who is seeking immunity for his client, said he was confident a deal could still be worked out, but members of Thompson's committee appeared divided on the matter with the divisions cutting across party lines.
Partisan wrangling continued over Thompson's opening statement last week in which he said his Senate Governmental Affairs Committee believes "high-level Chinese government officials crafted a plan to increase China's influence over the U.S. political process" and "took specific steps to do so," including the allocation of "substantial sums of money" for federal and state election campaigns.
Responding to reports that Thompson's statement was cleared by the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency, the Justice Department yesterday released a July 11 letter to Thompson, stating it had conducted a review "only for the purpose of protecting classified information and the integrity of the pending criminal investigation" into fund-raising for last year's presidential campaign.
"You neither requested nor received assessments of the accuracy of any conclusions you draw from information available to the committee," Assistant Attorney General Andrew Fois said in the letter. "Those conclusions, of course, are your own, and not necessarily those of the law enforcement or intelligence communities."
The letter said the Justice Department review was conducted in response to a request Thompson made to FBI Director Louis J. Freeh.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), a former chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that he knew "for a fact that the document that Senator Thompson read from had been cleared and approved by the CIA and the FBI."
Sen. John Glenn (Ohio), the committee's ranking Democrat, said on the opening day of hearings that he had read the same material Thompson had, but "was not willing to sign off" on his charges.
"I refuse to play around with intelligence information loosely," Glenn said later to reporters. He took aim instead at the National Policy Forum, established by then-Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour, which Glenn charges was "little more than a front" the RNC used to funnel foreign money to the GOP.
Thompson showed chagrin when asked on NBC if he felt Glenn was being sufficiently bipartisan. "It is no secret that I have been very disappointed every time that I have tried to reach out and make this a bipartisan investigation, extending over into Republican activities, issuing subpoenas against my own friends, anything that I thought was proper and appropriate," Thompson said. Of Glenn's remarks, he said, "There's an awful lot of pressure on an awful lot of us, every day, from a lot of different sources."
Asked if the White House was pressuring Glenn, Thompson said: "I'm not saying that."
Glenn, appearing on ABC's "This Week," disputed Thompson's statement that he was trying to make the investigation bipartisan. "[H]e knows and I know that quite the opposite is true," Glenn said. He said the Republicans have issued 163 subpoenas while the Democratic minority has won approval for only 24. "This is not bipartisan," Glenn said. "I'm not given equal time to put witnesses on."
Huang's lawyer, Ty Cobb, has proposed that Huang, a former Commerce Department official with a high-level security clearance, does not want immunity for any testimony concerning allegations about espionage, disclosure of classified information and the like, but does want to be immunized from prosecution regarding possible campaign finance violations.
Interviewed on "Meet the Press," Cobb said his client "did nothing immoral and certainly did not create espionage," but is concerned about being caught up by fine points of campaign finance law.
While a court order granting Huang immunity could not make the distinction, Cobb said Huang might sign "a written waiver" disclaiming immunity from any espionage-related charges. He said there also are "other possibilities" that might make Huang's testimony feasible.
Specter suggested that Huang be called first to testify without immunity about espionage-related matters "and then we could grant immunity on the balance." Cobb, however, contended such an arrangement "really is not workable" because his client would not be protected with regard to "the fact that he was born in China, how he immigrated, what his working relationships were. . . . Anything you say becomes a link in a chain."
Glenn said he wanted to see Huang's proffer a statement from his lawyer of what his testimony would be if immunized before making up his mind about granting immunity.
Thompson agreed that Huang is a central figure in the campaign financing inquiry. "While at the DNC, [Huang] had a systematic effort of bringing in illegal foreign money, some of it from China," Thompson said. "So there's some very serious questions to be asked here with regard to this gentleman."
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company