Trie Used False ID to Get Businessman Into White House
By William C. Rempel and Alan C. Miller
The episode, regarded as a serious breach of presidential security by federal officials, occurred at a White House holiday party Dec. 13, 1996, days before Trie fled the United States to avoid authorities investigating fund-raising improprieties.
Trie, a former Arkansas restaurateur and friend of Clinton, was interviewed extensively by FBI agents after he pleaded guilty in May to election law violations and agreed to cooperate with investigators. He also named a new source of secret foreign funds that were funneled into the last presidential campaign.
Trie said Tomy Winata, a Jakarta billionaire with financial ties to the Indonesian army, sent him $200,000 in traveler's checks to "help out" with donations, a portion of which Trie used to make illegal contributions to the Democratic National Committee and reimburse donors to the Clinton legal defense fund.
Federal law prohibits campaign contributions from foreign sources as well as hiding the true identity of donors.
Trie's account also could further embarrass Vice President Gore by shedding new light on a particularly damaging event from the Democratic front-runner's past. Trie told the FBI that he first suggested either Clinton or Gore visit the Hsi Lai Temple in Southern California, specifically to raise political funds.
Gore, surrounded by saffron-robed nuns and monks, attended a luncheon at the Los Angeles-area temple that raised $140,000 for the Democratic National Committee, a visit that came to epitomize the 1996 fund-raising scandal.
Trie said he called John Huang with the proposal, but Huang later asked Trie if Maria Hsia, a longtime fund-raiser for Gore and a member of the temple, could receive credit within the DNC for arranging the event. Trie said he stepped aside for Hsia. She later was indicted on election law violations, including her alleged role in the reimbursement of temple donors. Hsia, who has denied any wrongdoing, is to go on trial this month.
Huang's attorney, Ty Cobb, said: "I'm not aware of any facts that support this version."
When the temple appearance was first disclosed, Gore said he believed it was a "community outreach" event; he later acknowledged that he knew it was "finance-related." The DNC said the event should not have occurred at a place of worship, and it returned many of the donations.
Both Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the Republican winner in last week's New Hampshire primary, and former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley, Gore's Democratic rival, have hammered the vice president for his role in 1996 fund-raising excesses.
Bradley suggested last week that Gore still has not come clean about the episode, and McCain has excoriated the vice president for asking "monks and nuns to pay thousands of dollars to violate their vows of poverty so they could spiritually commune with him."
Responding to Trie's account of the genesis of the temple event, Laura Quinn, Gore's communications director, said: "We have nothing to add. That doesn't change any of the facts as they relate to the vice president."
Trie's attorney could not be reached for comment.
The House Committee on Government Reform headed by Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) plans to hold hearings on the Trie matter later this month.
One of the report's most striking disclosures is Trie's acknowledgment that he used false identification--the driver's license of his Little Rock secretary's husband--to spirit Chich Chong "Simon" Chien, the Taiwan chairman of TransCapital International and a potential client, into a White House holiday dinner for DNC supporters.
Chien bore "no similarity whatsoever" to the Little Rock mail carrier, said Charles G. LaBella, a former prosecutor who once headed the Justice Department Campaign Financing Task Force, formed early in 1997, in part to determine if foreign money interests--including the Chinese government--tried to influence U.S. elections.
White House spokesman Jim Kennedy said Friday: "As we have said before, the president had no knowledge of, or reason to suspect, problems in campaign fund-raising. Nothing in the many investigations since that time has demonstrated otherwise."
All donations linked to Trie later were returned, Democratic officials say.
When Clinton, a frequent patron of Trie's Little Rock restaurant, confided his plan to seek the presidency, Trie said, he passed the word with calls to the Chinese and Taiwan consulates in Houston. He later solicited "fund-raising help" from the Chinese consulate, but an official said Beijing could not get involved in U.S. elections and "warned him that the phone line was tapped."
Trie became a major fund-raiser midway through Clinton's first term. From 1994 to 1996, he brought in more than $1.2 million in contributions to various Clinton causes, making him one of the president's biggest financial supporters. Much of the money, Trie conceded to investigators, came from foreign associates whose identities were concealed behind straw donors.
Trie's primary foreign sources included Winata, the Indonesian financier who once gave $200,000 to Trie for the DNC, which Trie used to reimburse donors to Clinton's legal defense fund and to buy $50,000 worth of tickets to a 1996 fund-raiser; Suma Ching Hai, the spiritual leader of a Buddhist sect in Taiwan bearing her name whose aides handed Trie a bag containing $500,000 for Clinton's legal defense fund that Trie said he returned because he feared he could not find 500 straw donors; and business partner Ng Lap Seng, a Macao gambling resort owner with extensive business interests in China who provided $100,000 for two seats at the head table at a 1994 presidential gala. Trie was embarrassed to find that guests he wanted to impress were relegated to the back of the Hilton Hotel ballroom.
Resorting to tactics usually reserved for stubborn maitre d's, Trie said he slipped "$700 or $800 cash" to Terence R. McAuliffe, then DNC finance chairman and more recently a fund-raising powerhouse for the president. The result, according to the FBI report: "Trie's guests were placed at a better table."
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