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Panel Hears of Huang's Frequent Visits to FirmBy Edward Walsh and Anne Farris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 18, 1997; Page A08
Senate Republicans sought to unravel some of the mystery surrounding controversial Democratic fund-raiser John Huang yesterday, questioning why he frequently left his Commerce Department office and walked across Pennsylvania Avenue to use an office belonging to an Arkansas investment banking firm.
Huang, a central figure in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's investigation of 1996 campaign finance improprieties, had access to a telephone, copier and fax machine in the offices of Stephens Inc., Paula V. Greene, a former employee of the firm, told the committee. He also sometimes picked up letter-sized "packages" that were delivered to him there, she said.
But in more than an hour of testimony, Greene was unable to confirm Republican suspicions that Huang was using the Stephens office as a secret base from which he relayed sensitive Commerce Department information to his Indonesia-based former employer and possibly the Chinese government. She said she did not know whether Huang used the Stephens fax machine and copier, did not know whom he talked to on the phone and did not know the contents of the packages that were delivered to him.
Committee Republicans are attempting to establish that substantial amounts of illegal foreign money flowed into Democratic coffers during the 1996 campaign through Huang and his former employer, the Lippo Group conglomerate, and that some of the money may have come from the Chinese government. But much of the case they have been building against Huang has involved circumstantial evidence that is subject to vastly different interpretations by Democrats and Republicans.
That partisan tendency was on full display during yesterday's hearing. After differing on why Huang may have visited the Stephens office, the committee fell into an open squabble over the meaning of several charts that were presented by John H. Cobb, a GOP staff lawyer for the committee.
The charts listed almost 500 telephone and other contacts between Huang at the Commerce Department and the Lippo Group and its associates and suggested that he may have engaged in Democratic fund-raising while holding a government position, a violation of federal law. Republicans also raised questions about Huang's frequent visits to the White House.
The charts and a listing of 164 Huang visits to the Clinton White House set off a furious Democratic counterattack. Sen. Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.) accused Republicans of undermining the integrity of the investigation by attempting to "overstate the case" against Huang.
White House special counsel Lanny J. Davis, outside the hearing room, said Secret Service records showed only 93 Huang visits to the White House, mostly on official Commerce Department business or for group political or social events. He accused the GOP of providing "misleading" information that he said has transformed the hearings into a "partisan slashing attack."
But Cobb and Republican committee members argued that Huang's extensive contacts with the Lippo Group while at the Commerce Department raised questions about whether he was still functioning on its behalf. So did some questionable contributions to the Democratic National Committee that were made shortly after contacts between Huang and the donors, they said.
Cobb also compiled flow charts to show that Huang had contact with four contributors while he was working at Commerce near the times they donated money to the DNC. The four contributors included Pauline Kanchanalak, a Washington lobbyist and founder of the U.S.-Thailand Business Council; Mi Ryu Ahn, president of Pan Metal Corp. in Los Angeles; Kenneth Wynn, president of Lippo Land Ltd.; and Soraya and Arief Wiriadinata, an Indonesian couple who gave $452,000.
According to Cobb's compilation of Huang's telephone calls and appointment calendar, Huang arranged for a presidential endorsement of the business council weeks before Kanchanalak contributed $32,500 to the DNC. In the case of Ahn, Cobb's charts showed that she and Huang exchanged calls two weeks before Ahn donated $10,000 to the DNC. Huang also received a telephone message from a DNC official saying, "Have talked to Mi. Thank you very much."
The charts also showed that the DNC credited Huang for soliciting two contributions totaling $17,000 from Wynn while Huang was working at Commerce. Near the time of the contributions, the charts showed 54 telephone calls between Huang and Lippo, although there is no indication the calls were directly to or from Wynn.
Cobb also showed that Huang helped arrange two get-well notes from Clinton to Soraya Wiriadinata's father, a partner in Lippo ventures, before the Wiriadinatas contributed $30,000. All of the $452,000 contributed by the Wiriadinatas was returned by the DNC when it was discovered that they had neglected to pay income taxes in the United States.
Cobb said he did not know the substance of the calls made by Huang, whether they were for fund-raising purposes or whether Huang had violated federal laws that prohibit government employees from soliciting political donations.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company