Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 10, 1997; Page A10
The first House hearing into campaign finance abuses erupted in controversy yesterday after Democrats presented evidence suggesting that a hearing witness had made "false statements" about fund-raiser John Huang's role in an illegal $10,000 contribution to the Democratic National Committee during President Clinton's reelection campaign last year.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) had warned the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee early in the day that he thought the story told by David Wang, a Los Angeles used car salesman, was "fiction."
But when he presented documents suggesting that Huang could not have met with Wang on the day described by Wang, Republicans at first appeared to have been taken completely by surprise, then rushed to find evidence to rebut Waxman.
"It's one thing to say somebody was mistaken," said Republican Chief Counsel Dick Bennett. "It's another thing to start throwing around words like perjury."
The hearing sputtered to a vituperative but inconclusive end late yesterday, but it left committee Chairman Dan Burton (R-Ind.) with another black eye for an investigation plagued by missteps, from failure to grant immunity to witnesses to the resignation of key staff members.
Waxman blamed Burton for misleading the committee into granting immunity to Wang: "In a year of embarrassments," he said, "this is the most damaging to our committee."
Wang, 34, a slightly built, 5-foot-4 Taiwanese-born U.S. citizen, was granted immunity to testify before the committee that Huang had solicited $10,000 in contributions to the DNC from him last year, then immediately reimbursed him. Serving as a "straw donor" is a violation of federal law.
Wang told the committee that Huang, a former DNC fund-raiser and a key figure in ongoing investigations of campaign improprieties, telephoned him Aug. 16, 1996, and visited his office at C.H. Auto Sales in Rosemead, Calif., later that morning, accompanied by a man identified as Antonio Pan.
Earlier in the day, Burton described Pan as a "rather mysterious figure" and a "bagman" for both Huang and Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie, another central figure in congressional investigations.
Wang, speaking in halting English or through an interpreter, said he had met Huang once before, "in a social occasion with friends," and insisted that he recognized him.
Wang told the committee his visitors asked him to contribute $5,000 to the DNC. He supplied Huang with two checks one from himself and one from David Wu, a Taiwanese national and permanent U.S. resident, for whom Wang held a power of attorney. Later in the day, Wang testified, Pan returned with envelopes full of cash as reimbursement.
Waxman did not dispute that Wang had served as a straw donor but in mid-afternoon presented a sheaf of documents to show that Huang was in New York Aug. 16, preparing for President Clinton's 50th birthday/fund-raising celebration.
The documents included Huang's New York hotel bills, articles and pictures from Chinese newspapers describing Huang's presence in New York, and statements from eyewitnesses.
A statement from Tak Luk Cheng, who identified himself as the owner of a New York City Chinese restaurant, said, "I personally had lunch (dim sum) at approximately 2 p.m. with Mr. John Huang," virtually the same moment he and Pan were supposed to have met with Wang in California.
"Our point is clear," Waxman concluded. "We have overwhelming evidence that Mr. Huang was in New York and not Los Angeles." He raised his eyebrows, inviting Wang to respond.
"So far as I can recollect, it was Mr. John Huang," Wang said.
"I presume we're coming very close to the question of whether this witness has committed perjury," said Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.), prompting cries of outrage from several Republicans and from Wang's lawyer, Michael Carvin.
"This man sells used cars in Los Angeles," Carvin told reporters. "The last thing he'd want to say is that John Huang is in his office."
Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) dismissed Waxman's documents as "pieces of paper," and Republicans presented a telephone log of a call from Huang's Glendale, Calif., home to New York the morning of Aug. 17, 1996, suggesting that Huang may have been in Los Angeles.
Burton noted that the DNC's tracking chit of Wang's contribution showed "John Huang" as the "contact:" "John Huang solicited that contribution," Burton said. "We're not concerned about some angel here."
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