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
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.
Buried, then drowned
White Christmas ravaged the Pacific Northwest, where the worst snowstorm in 20 years left 10-foot drifts in some areas. Then the rains came. Torrential downpours-combined with melting snow and temperatures in the 70s-flooded portions of Washington, California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and Oregon. The flooding trapped more than 2,000 in Yosemite National Park and forced the closing-for the first time in memory-of Reno, Nevada's 24-hour casinos. Residents throughout the region were cut off by high water, mudslides, and power failures. At least 17 deaths were blamed on the storms.
Suffer the children
The six-year-old daughter of a Colorado computer magnate was found strangled to death in the basement of her home, hours after reportedly being kidnapped. The parents of JonBenet Ramsey-a one-time winner of the Little Miss Colorado contest-said they had discovered a ransom note and were waiting for the kidnapper's call when the girl's body was found the morning after Christmas. John and Patty Ramsey denied any involvement in the killing and said they were offering a $50,000 reward for finding the killer. At a New Year's Eve funeral, the congregation sang "Jesus Loves Me" and the pastor read Psalm 57 at the parents' request. "If any good can come from this [God] will lead us to it," Mrs. Ramsey later told CNN. In Chicago, police charged a 20-year-old mother from an affluent suburb with killing her newborn daughter Dec. 27 and then hiding the girl's body in a trash bag. The woman later told police she suffocated the child just after birth. Relatives said they were unaware that she was pregnant. A Texas man, preparing to fire a gun to celebrate the start of the new year, accidentally shot and killed his seven-year-old daughter. He was charged with criminally negligent homicide.
As the old year ended, number crunchers released plenty of new statistics. As of New Year's Day 1997, the Census Bureau estimated the population of the United States to be 266,499,365, up 2.3 million - or 0.9 percent-since the beginning of 1996. Immigration accounted for about one-third of the jump. Among other new stats: a report showing major cities had sharply fewer homicides in 1996, hitting 30-year lows in some places. Each of the nation's 10 largest cities had decreased murder rates compared to 1995. Criminologists said a variety of factors contributed to the drop, including a new willingness among drug dealers to respect each other's turf. The Dow Jones industrial average-the closely watched barometer of stock market health-finished 1996 with a total gain of 1,331 points, an increase of 26 percent for the year. It was a strong showing, but not quite as strong as 1995's 33 percent increase. One unofficial statistic from a WORLD survey of the news wires: The top price reported for a Tickle Me Elmo doll-the hardest-to-get 1996 Christmas toy-was $3,500, paid at a Florida auction. The doll retails for about $28.
In California, the 54 percent of voters who thought their approval of a landmark ballot initiative would end state-sponsored race and gender discrimination saw their election victory evaporate. U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson Dec. 23 blocked enforcement of the California Civil Rights Initiative while a lawsuit against the measure is tried in the courts. CCRI-also known as Proposition 209-would have outlawed all race and gender preferences in government hiring, contracting, and education. The judge's decision came three days after the Clinton administration -- characterizing the anti-discrimination measure as discriminatory -- said it would join the fight against CCRI. Judge Henderson also told the University of California, which earlier had voted to end race and gender preferences in admissions and financial aid, to continue the preferences.
"The red bandits"
Accusing the Serbian Communist regime of "strangling political and religious freedoms," the once weak-willed Serbian Orthodox Church Jan. 2 issued a strong statement urging embattled President Slobodan Milosevic to "respect the results" of November elections that would have put many non-Communists in power in local offices. Meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators continued to protest in the streets, chanting "Down with the red bandits!" Serbia's state-controlled media ignored both the church statement and the continuing demonstrations, making no mention of either. Protesters are getting their message out through low-power FM radio, tabloid newspapers, and the Internet.
An agreement on an Israeli troop redeployment in the West Bank city of Hebron was delayed once again, by both violence and diplomatic maneuvering. On New Year's Day, an Israeli soldier-who later said he was trying to stop the accord, which would transfer most of Hebron to Palestinian rule-opened fire into a crowded Arab marketplace, wounding six people. Noam Friedman, an Orthodox Jew with a history of mental instability, told reporters he was tying to kill "Israel haters." Despite the violence, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, prodded by President Clinton who was attending Renaissance Weekend, pledged to continue talks on Hebron, a town in which some 400 Jewish settlers live among 100,000 Arabs. Just as a breakthrough seemed close, Palestinian negotiators said they would refuse to sign unless Israel also agreed to a deadline for withdrawing troops from certain other areas of the West Bank where Jews have settled. On the Israeli side of the negotiations, nearly half of Mr. Netanyahu's 18 cabinet members said they would oppose the Hebron accord, which they see as threatening Israel's security.
A woman with mental problems blew herself up during a Christmas Eve service at a German church. Two elderly sisters sitting nearby were killed as well. In Algeria, a bomb in an Algiers cafe wounded 53; Muslim rebels were suspected. A bomb ripped through an express train in eastern India Dec. 30, killing several hundred passengers and crew. Police suspected an insurgent tribal group seeking greater autonomy in the region. One day later, a bomb exploded on a Syrian bus filled with New Year's revelers, killing nine.
Holding the line in Peru
In Peru, a weeks-long hostage crisis dragged on through Christmas and New Year's, as a band of Marxist rebels continued a standoff at the Lima residence of the Japanese ambassador. On Dec. 22, the rebels released 225 of an estimated 375 captives. Over the next 10 days, some 30 more hostages were let go. Among those still being held heading into the first weekend of January: five Peruvian Supreme Court judges, eight generals, five congressmen, two foreign ambassadors, and the younger brother of Peru's president, Alberto Fujimori. Mr. Fujimori took a hard line, appointing replacements for six captive generals and the president of the Supreme Court-a move one diplomat called a "brutal" message that the hostages were expendable. The rebels have been demanding the release of some 400 of their comrades from Peruvian jails.
There ought to be a law
Saying there was no specific law against what she had done, a Canadian judge threw out a charge of attempted murder against a mother who tried to kill her full-term unborn son with a pellet gun. Under Canadian law, a child is not considered a person until born, therefore her action "cannot be attempted homicide," the judge ruled. The child was delivered two days after the shooting and had surgery to remove the pellet from his brain. Doctors say he suffered no permanent physical damage.
Possible vote fraud in Bosnia
Senators are interested in possible vote fraud in Bosnia. Jan. 1 press accounts said senators considering the appointment of National Security Adviser Anthony Lake to the CIA want to know about his role in a $500,000 cash contribution from Iranian agents to the election campaign of the Muslim president of Bosnia. Mr. Lake has admitted to misleading Congress about covert shipments of Iranian armaments to the battle-weary region.
Budget battle to begin
The battle over the federal budget begins in earnest after the presidential State of the Union address, but White House officials have already launched the first salvo. Unidentified White House staffers gave reporters the broad outlines of the administration's FY 1998 federal budget. The Christmas Eve news leak suggested $130 billion in tax relief would be included in the budget proposal. Officials also said the White House planned not to lower the consumer price index, to which automatic federal entitlement spending increases are tied. The CPI change is key to Social Security reform.