This Week

Issue: "Social Security," Jan. 11, 1997

Bill and Newt

Three days after exposing the Democratic Party's "National Asian Pacific American Campaign Plan," The New York Times celebrated New Year's Eve by calling on Attorney General Janet Reno to "abandon her now untenable position that she lacks sufficient information to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the possibility of illegal fundraising. " The evidence revealed by the Times Dec. 28 was culled from the files of John Huang, the former Commerce Department official who later became a fundraiser for the DNC. The paper reported that Mr. Huang's files "leave little doubt that the quid pro quo promised in exchange for large donations was in many cases a face-to-face meeting with the president." Documents released by the White House Dec. 26 showed that an Asian-American business consultant, a major Democratic Party donor, visited the White House 26 times and arranged for Thai executives to attend a coffee with President Clinton. Later the same day of the coffee, the businessman gave $185,000 to the Democratic National Committee. The DNC spokeswoman said the timing of the contribution was purely coincidental. The Times editorial on Dec. 31 said the episode-as well as many others-might not "constitute bribery under the definition of federal laws," but the White House has taken the "meeting-for-dollars activities to unprecedented heights." Moreover, there is a question of whether another of these low-level White House staffers, Doris Matsui, was involved in coordinating the DNC's Asian fundraising initiative. That is flatly illegal, and the White House officially denies it. But the Times says, "That is an assertion that needs to be tested by an independent prosecutor with subpoena powers." Things are unraveling fast. As they seem to be for House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Media accounts by conservatives tend to suggest Mr. Gingrich's ethical troubles are so small they should be ignored. Liberals tend to make a moral equivalence between the Speaker and President Clinton. Both sides are wrong. The Bible says, to whom much is given, much is required; that's just as true of leadership authority as of money. The allegations against Speaker Gingrich should be investigated thoroughly. If Mr. Gingrich violated House rules, he should be punished, as he should if the evidence shows he violated tax laws. But if, on the basis of what's admitted to and what's alleged but unproven, Mr. Gingrich is supposed to step down, then Mr. Clinton ought to have done the same a long, long time ago.

The Speaker speaks

After Newt Gingrich Dec. 21 admitted with "great sadness" that he filed "inaccurate, incomplete, unreliable" information with the House Ethics Committee, GOP leaders with few exceptions quickly circled the wagons around their politically wounded leader. The ethics panel-evenly divided among Republicans and Democrats-appeared to be moving in the direction of an official reprimand of the Speaker. A reprimand, as opposed to a censure, would allow Mr. Gingrich to retain his office. The false information he provided the committee involved his role in funding and distributing a "partisan" college course using tax-deductible contributions. (The course was ideologically tilted, but less so than courses taught from the left at many major universities. See WORLD's story on Mr. Gingrich's course, Dec. 25, 1993). Mr. Gingrich admitted that he failed to "seek and follow" legal advice that would have told him he was improperly using tax-exempt organizations. On Dec. 29, House GOP Whip Tom DeLay predicted Mr. Gingrich would win the vote to become Speaker; the next day, Republican Michael Forbes of New York announced he would vote "present." Said Rep. Forbes: "I'm physically sick over it and I'm sick he's making us do this, but he will be a Speaker who's weighed down." After that mini-rebellion, Ethics Committee Republicans Porter Goss of Florida and Steve Schiff of New Mexico announced they'd support Mr. Gingrich for Speaker. One Republican supporter of Mr. Gingrich not present for the Jan. 7 leadership vote, Bob Dornan of California, is seeking to have the election results in which he was defeated by fewer than 1,000 votes overturned. Mr. Dornan officially filed his appeal one day before The Los Angeles Times Dec. 27 found 19 noncitizens who admitted voting illegally in the election. The California politician claims hundreds of noncitizens and felons cast ballots in his contest; he wants a new election held. There are also charges of vote fraud in the Louisiana Senate race.

Under the Christmas Trie

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One day before Newt Gingrich's admission of wrongdoing, President Clinton declared his February meeting with Chinese arms dealer Wang Jun, arranged by presidential friend and financial supporter Charles Yah Lin Trie, "clearly inappropriate." On Christmas Day, The Los Angeles Times reported that former Commerce Department official and Democratic Party fundraiser John Huang set up an April 8 meeting between the president and South Korean businessman John K.H. Lee at a fundraising event for which his firm, Cheong Am America, Inc., made an illegal $250,000 donation-later returned-to the Democratic National Committee. The Times cited DNC documents showing that Mr. Huang knew Cheong Am America conducted no business in the United States; it is unlawful for corporations without American operations to furnish campaign contributions. Contributions to President Clinton's legal defense fund also received more press scrutiny. The New York Times revealed Dec. 30 that Mr. Trie, a follower of the cult Ching Hai, petitioned the sect's "master" Suma Ching Hai. Mr. Trie traveled to the religious leader's headquarters in Taiwan to discuss with the master during a prayer meeting Mr. Clinton's expanding indebtedness to lawyers. She was sympathetic and urged her followers to pass the plate to help the president defend himself against Whitewater charges and Paula Jones's allegations of sexual harassment. Suma Ching Hai told the Times: "He is the president of the United States, the biggest country in the world, and yet he is dragged into the material world by something so trivial." Her followers are forbidden to lie, kill, use alcohol or drugs, steal, or engage in sexual misconduct.

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