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Senator Assails White House

By Guy Gugliotta
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 31, 1997; Page A01

A visibly irritated Sen. Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.) bitterly denounced the White House yesterday for stalling the Senate's investigation into campaign finance abuses and announced that his committee will subpoena the administration for all outstanding documents relative to its inquiry.

"They have no credibility as far as I'm concerned," said Thompson, the chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. "They have not operated in good faith."

Thompson said he would ask the committee to issue a White House subpoena today.

The uneasy truce between the Clinton administration and the committee's Republican majority collapsed yesterday after documents detailing 12 White House visits by Ng Lap Seng, a key figure in the probe, arrived on Capitol Hill a few hours after the committee's lead investigator had testified about Ng in an open hearing Tuesday.

The records "would have been extremely helpful" had they arrived on time, Thompson told the panel yesterday. He said the records had been requested on May 21, and he accused the White House of "trying to manipulate the press and us – we are not going to tolerate that."

The committee is investigating illegalities in the 1996 elections, including alleged foreign contributions to President Clinton's reelection campaign.

This week the committee is attempting to trace more than $1.4 million in overseas wire transfers to former Democratic fund-raiser Charles Yah Lin Trie. At least $905,000 came from Ng, 49, a wealthy Macao-based real-estate developer who is Trie's business partner.

It had been reported that Ng had attended fund-raising events where Clinton was present, but the full extent of his access to the White House was not previously known.

The new documents, sent to the panel by White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff, described 12 visits by Ng – who has also been referred to by his Mandarin name, Wu – to the mansion from June 1994 to October 1996.

White House special counsel Lanny J. Davis told reporters that eight of the visits were "purely social," to see White House aide Mark Middleton, a friend of Trie's from Little Rock. Middleton has refused to testify before the committee. His attorney, Robert Luskin, said Middleton "never had any substantive conversation of any kind with Ng."

Three other visits appeared to be White House tours, Davis said, including one with Wang Jun, a Chinese business executive and head of one of Beijing's leading weapons companies. Wang attended a coffee at the White House on the same day as the tour with Ng. Clinton later repudiated that visit as "clearly inappropriate." Finally, Ng was Trie's invited guest at a White House dinner hosted by Clinton.

Until yesterday, Thompson had resisted issuing subpoenas to the White House, preferring instead to work with Ruff to obtain documents voluntarily, an arrangement that had led investigators to complain several times about stalling.

"This has happened half a dozen times during depositions where documents arrived after the fact," Thompson told reporters. "This is just the last, most classic, most public example of it."

The White House's Ruff issued a statement yesterday calling Thompson's accusations "simply wrong." The committee had "more than 200 requests" for information, and the committee "never indicated" that Ng was a priority," he added.

"We will continue to cooperate with the committee's requests," Ruff's statement said. "There is no justification for the committee's decision to issue a subpoena other than to score some debating point."

Before the spat with the White House erupted, the committee listened to hours of testimony from Michael H. Cardozo, executive director of the Presidential Legal Expense Trust, about Trie's efforts to give him $789,000 in individual contributions to pay Clinton's personal legal bills.

The trust rejected the contributions, presented in heaps of personal checks and money orders in spring 1996, because of suspicions about their origin, their unprecedented size and the bizarre nature of Trie's approach.

On the first occasion in March 1996, Cardozo said he was sitting in a glassed-in conference room when Trie opened a manila envelope on a conference table, and "a mound of checks spilled out."

Then on April 24, 1996, Trie appeared with "a large shopping bag, heavily laden," Cardozo said. "I said to myself, "my God, he's got a million dollars this time."

In fact, Cardozo said, it was $179,000.

Much of the questioning yesterday concerned meetings Cardozo had at the White House in which he discussed the trust, and the trust's decision to mask the receipt of the first $460,000 in "ineligible contributions" by eliminating that line item in the trust's biannual report.

Committee Republicans suggested the White House had prevailed on Cardozo to change the report's format to keep Trie's activities quiet during Clinton's reelection bid.

Cardozo insisted that no one at the White House evinced any particular interest in Trie, and he said no one attempted to impede the trustees' activities "in any way."

He said the trustees regarded Trie as "irrelevant" and a "messenger," and "we wanted to find out who was behind" the contributions. The trust established that most of the money was raised at meetings of the Ching Hai Buddhist sect, he added, and there were questions about whether the donations had been coerced or whether contributors had been handed money from another source.

Staff writers Lena H. Sun and Dan Morgan contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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