Congressional Republicans finally got their chance to grill former Democratic fund-raiser John Huang yesterday, but his sole revelation was that he had received gifts of about $40,000 from an Indonesian businessman since a criminal investigation into both men began three years ago.
Huang, a former Commerce Department official and fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee, has been a central figure in Republican investigations of the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign finance scandals, but yesterday marked the first time he testified under oath before Congress.
In response to questions from House Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton (R-Ind.), Huang said James Riady, a wealthy Indonesian businessman and Democratic donor who is also a key figure in the fund-raising scandal, gave him two payments as "gift money." But Huang said the payments were not so that he would "keep quiet" about any illegal conduct by Riady.
The first payment, $18,000, was a Christmas present to Huang in 1997. The second payment, in 1998, of $20,000 was because "I have not been working these past years," Huang said. Before taking a job with the Clinton administration, Huang had worked for the Lippo Group, an Indonesian conglomerate run by the Riady family. Riady has not left Indonesia since the scandal broke in 1996.
Huang continued his steadfast denials of Republican charges that he was involved in a scheme to donate money channeled from the Chinese government to aid the 1996 Clinton-Gore reelection campaign in exchange for official favors.
But Republicans questioning Huang seemed to doubt him. They focused intently on a 1992 limousine ride involving then-Gov. Bill Clinton and Riady. In that ride, which Huang described earlier this year in interviews with the FBI, Riady promised to raise $1 million for the Clinton presidential campaign. Riady and Huang then engaged in a plan to use employees of Riady's company as donors, but have them reimbursed by Riady.
Huang, who eventually pleaded guilty to making $156,000 in illegal conduit contributions springing from that limousine ride, insisted that Riady never told Clinton of the illegal part of the plan. Huang received one year's probation and a $10,000 fine.
Huang was often at a loss to explain Riady's generosity. When former associate attorney general Webster L. Hubbell was in financial difficulty because of numerous criminal investigations in the spring of 1994, Riady gave Hubbell $100,000. Asked why, Huang said, "on the basis of help for a friend in trouble."
But Huang's testimony also revealed that Hubbell and Riady were not exactly close friends. Huang said he was the one who told Riady of Hubbell's plight, after first hearing of it himself from Little Rock attorney Doug Buford.
Last month, the committee granted Huang immunity in exchange for his testimony. But yesterday's hearing was poorly attended. Five Republicans and only one Democrat, ranking minority member Henry A. Waxman of California, were present out of the 43 members on the committee. Congress is out of session for the holidays.
Waxman accused Burton of uncovering nothing new in the 38 months since he began investigating campaign finance. He said Burton, without approval of committee Democrats, issued more than 883 subpoenas, while between 1960 and 1994, no House chairman had ever issued a unilateral subpoena.