Disclosures last week by former Democratic Party fundraiser Johnny Chung that he funneled thousands of dollars from a Chinese military officer into the 1996 reelection campaign of Bill Clinton and Al Gore are so serious that even some Democrats are emerging from behind their stone wall to express concern.
Mr. Chung, who is cooperating with investigators into the Chinese campaign cash connection, received $300,000 from a People's Liberation Army lieutenant colonel, whose father recently had retired as China's top military commander. Mr. Chung says he was told to use the money for campaign contributions. Mr. Chung says he sent $100,000 to the Democratic National Committee, apparently keeping the rest for himself.
Mr. Chung's information seems to corroborate a claim by Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), who said at the start of hearings on campaign-finance-law violations last July that he had uncovered evidence that the Chinese government had influenced the 1996 U.S. election. Democrats-along with suspects who fled the country, took the Fifth Amendment, or refused to speak with investigators-successfully blunted the investigation. Sen. Thompson was left to say in a final report from his committee that there was "strong circumstantial evidence" that China contributed to the 1996 Democratic campaign.
That evidence now is far more than circumstantial, and Republicans, united for a change, want to know if China got anything for its money. They are suspicious, despite repeated administration denials of any quid pro quo, because the Clinton administration in 1996 made it easier for American civilian communication satellites to be launched by Chinese rockets. Disturbingly, American technology is being used not only to modernize Chinese weapons but also has been shared with Iran and Pakistan. The Justice Department had opposed waivers by the president for satellite technology, fearing China might use our space expertise to more accurately target long-range missiles at the United States. The Chinese once boasted they could bomb downtown Los Angeles.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott want to hold a series of hearings before Mr. Clinton leaves for China late next month. As usual, the administration has refused to provide documentation to refute their concerns. Mr. Gingrich said, "If the president won't share the information with the Congress on these matters, then he and his administration are guilty. They can't use defense-attorney techniques and blatant obstruction to block matters of national security."
Some congressional Democrats are speaking up. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who has been a strong Clinton defender as the ranking member on Rep. Dan Burton's (R-Ind.) Government Reform and Oversight Committee, said: "If what's reported is true, it's very troubling. This would be the first solid evidence that the Chinese government was implementing a plan to influence our elections."
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), who was on the Thompson committee, said, "Our investigation put a lot of dots on the canvas that suggested something very wrong had happened. But if this is correct, this information begins to connect those dots."
In their book The Coming Conflict with China, New York Times reporter Richard Bernstein and former Time magazine Hong Kong bureau chief Ross Munro warn that China will soon be the world's second most powerful military giant. They also indict American companies which, in order to make huge profits, are selling China merchandise that undermines the interests of their own country and of free people everywhere. They write: "If China remains aggressive and the United States naive, the looming conflict between the two countries could even lead to military hostilities."
Do we want to provide China with the expertise and weaponry we may someday have to fight against? Should Americans be placed at risk by weapons and technology made in the U.S.A. and sold by corporations interested only in fattening their bottom lines and by a president interested solely in reelection?
Mr. Chung's testimony is "specific and credible evidence" that demands an independent counsel to investigate what could be the selling out of America by this administration. In wartime this would qualify as treason and an impeachable offense. The offense is equally heinous in peacetime.
© 1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate