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Panel Unanimously Issues Subpoena to White HouseBy Guy Gugliotta
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 1, 1997; Page A16
The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee agreed unanimously yesterday to subpoena the White House for outstanding records in its investigation of campaign finance abuses during the 1996 election race.
Majority counsel Michael J. Madigan said the 16-member panel, "after a very brief discussion," agreed to issue the subpoena "for a variety of documents" that had been sought for months.
In ignoring White House objections, committee Republicans and Democrats showed surprising unity in a 90-minute closed meeting to discuss the future course of the investigation. The hearings, which began in early July, adjourned yesterday for Congress's summer recess and probably will resume in early September.
Madigan said that the subpoena was answerable around the middle of August and that if information "is not forthcoming," committee Chairman Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.) could unilaterally "order" compliance. "There should be no problem," Madigan said.
Thompson has alleged several times that the White House was stalling in providing documents, and he finally sought a subpoena for them after administration aides provided records involving a major figure in the committee's investigation hours after witnesses had finished testifying about him. The White House has complained that document production is impossible because the committee has pending requests for records involving more than 200 persons.
The committee closed its first round of public hearings with a flurry of testimony, including questioning of Zhi Hua Dong, organizer of a New York religious event in 1996 that produced hundreds of thousands of dollars for President Clinton's personal legal defense fund.
The money was delivered to the fund by former Democratic National Committee fund-raiser Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie, who has become a major figure in the panel's investigation into the movement of foreign money to the Democrats and Clinton's reelection campaign.
Shortly after the New York religious gathering, Trie dumped a pile of checks and money orders on a table in the fund's offices. In all, Trie tried to give $460,000 to the fund.
Concerned about its source, the defense fund hired Terry F. Lenzner, chairman of the Washington-based Investigative Group Inc., and associate Loren Berger to investigate. In testimony yesterday, Lenzner said he and Berger soon confirmed that the bulk of the contributions came from followers of the Taiwan-based Supreme Master Ching Hai, leader of a religious sect with U.S. headquarters in San Jose, Calif.
Trustees for the Presidential Legal Expense Trust eventually returned all $460,000 because of suspicions that many of the contributors were reimbursed for their contributions or had been coerced into making them. It is illegal to contribute to political campaigns under someone else's name.
"My view was that some of the contributors did not appear to have the economic wherewithal to make $1,000 contributions," said Berger.
Dong, a young physicist working at Columbia University, confirmed that a large part of the money was gathered at a March 16, 1996, "Gathering with Suma Ching Hai" at The Inn on 57th Street in Manhattan.
Dong said guests who were U.S citizens were sent upstairs for a private meeting with Ching Hai. Trust rules prohibited anyone but U.S. citizens from contributing to the defense fund.
"Master encouraged people to help the president by contributing up to $1,000," Dong said. As she left the room, a number of people got up to follow her but Dong said she spoke sharply: "Finish what we have to do here," Dong quoted her as saying. "Don't come downstairs."
Dong said some people bought money orders, and others wrote personal checks but "60 to 100" people "borrowed" the money using $70,000 worth of blank money orders Dong had purchased at Ching Hai's instruction.
These money orders, sequentially numbered, were what raised "a red flag" at the trust a few days later, Lenzner said. Dong said he was reimbursed for the $70,000 within a few days of the gathering with three checks from Taiwan, Cambodia and Los Angeles.
After the party had finished, Dong went back to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel where Ching Hai and attendants counted the money, put it in an envelope and handed it to Trie. "He left the suite," Dong said.
Much of yesterday's questioning, especially from Republicans, focused on why Lenzner and Berger never interviewed Trie, given his bizarre apparent performance as the would-be bagman for the president's legal defense fund. Lenzner said the trust asked the investigators specifically not to contact Trie, in part because trustees wanted to spend only $5,000 to investigate the contributions, "a very limited budget for a complex" job.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company