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Reality Check

By Mary McGrory

Thursday, July 17, 1997; Page A02

It has been a splendid week for the obvious. It is amazing that some people have so much trouble accepting that something is exactly as it appears to be. So it is important when significant strides are made that they be acknowledged.

First we had independent counsel Kenneth Starr telling us something we have known since one terrible night in 1993 when Vincent Foster from Arkansas, good friend and deputy White House counsel to President Clinton, killed himself in Fort Marcy Park.

The U.S. Park Police told us so at the time, but it was hard for some, especially Republicans, to believe that just because there was a gun and a suicide note, that a sensational development at the White House was not a scandal. A great cult of non-believers sprang up, and guaranteed that the wounds of Foster's family and friends would be kept open. It took Starr only three years to shut them up.

Among those most adamantly opposed to accepting the palpably obvious is the chairman of the House committee that is charged with investigating the campaign spending scandals, Rep. Dan Burton (R) of Indiana, who is said to have reenacted the death of Foster in his back yard. Burton has been dogged by stories of his own excesses in the getting and spending of campaign money. Recently his chief legal counsel quit and took the pros with him.

But as soon as one obvious truth is acknowledged, another sophistry is born. House Republicans have decided that Burton will indeed be a credible chairman. Quality members, Chris Shays (R-Conn.) and Connie Morrella (R-Md.) insist that Burton's day is coming, when the Senate committee headed by Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) closes for business.

Thompson's committee was the scene of a notable acknowledgment of the obvious. You couldn't miss it because Hart 216 is a hotbed of people who don't want to see what is under their noses. The Democrats, understandably furious that they are being branded as the "money party" – when the Republicans have always out-raised and out-spent them by three to one – decided they would concede nothing, answer every charge of Democratic offense with a Republican equivalent. They talked about former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour and his Asian connection; they dragged in the name of Michael Kojima, a big giver to George Bush in 1992 who turned out to be "deadbeat dad of the year."

They were terribly bucked up by the first week's notices of the hearings. They heard and read everywhere that they had "won" the opening round. The Capitol's drama critics proclaimed the show a bomb. The first witness, former DNC finance director Richard Sullivan, was young and appealing. He had seen no evil, he said, and in his two days on the stand emptied the public seating section. The Democrats are defending a president they have little reason to love – although many are beholden to him for raising large crowds and bucks for them in the campaign.

But is saying your president isn't as bad as the other guy something to crow about?

For one Democratic senator, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, it wasn't quite enough.

On Tuesday, after a long morning of checks and memos introduced with the help of a nervous, demure Asian American female bookkeeper, Lieberman decided to introduce a little reality into the discussion on his side of the aisle.

He found it odd that a little holding company called Hip Hing, a subsidiary of the Lippo Group and one that was $418,000 in the hole, would be making out a $50,000 check to the DNC Victory Fund. He found it odder, and clinching, that John Huang, who ordered up the check, which was funded by Lippo's overflowing treasury in the home office in Jakarta, should seek reimbursement from Lippo and later go off to the Commerce Department under auspices and for purposes that are not yet clear.

Lieberman said, quite sensibly, that he found it "pretty clear evidence of foreign money coming in to the American election in 1992."

In other words, what seems to be is, actually, what is.

The biggest moment to date came when Chairman Thompson, the big, slow-spoken southerner presiding over his first big show, boiled over at Sen. John Glenn, the committee's ranking Democrat. They have been feuding for months, and after long bickering over Huang's interim clearance at Commerce, Thompson rounded on Glenn for suggesting he was being paranoid in his suspicions of a sinister side to it all. "There may be more than one or two points involved in what we are doing," he said, noting that Huang had dispensed a fortune in foreign donations to the campaign, that he refused to testify, that other witnesses had fled the country or taken the Fifth. The hearings, it seemed, were finally on their way.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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