July 8, 1997
Senate hearings on political fundraising began today in Washington with two surprises: former Democratic fund-raiser John Huang, a central figure in the campaign fundraising controversy, may testify if given limited immunity, and there may be more evidence that China tried to influence elections in the U.S. Jim Lehrer leads a debate between the ranking Democrat of the committee, Sen. John Glenn of Ohio, and a Republican member, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, welcome. First of all, to the news of the day, Sen. Glenn, did the committee meet and make a decision on the John Huang matter?
A RealAudio version of Kwame Holman's report on today's hearing is available.
A RealAudio version of this discussion is available.
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SEN. JOHN GLENN, (D) Ohio: Well, we finished that in open session in that we had a unanimous consent agreement that we would instruct staff, the two counsels for the majority and minority, to meet with Mr. Cobb, who represents Mr. Huang, and get together and see if they can't get a proffer together that can be brought to us that would be satisfactory for the committee beyond which it would probably go down to the Justice Department for them to check and back to us for final action. So that's where we stand now. They're instructed to get together on it.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Specter, do you have an opinion about whether or not this is a good idea?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R) Pennsylvania: I think that it's a good idea, providing Mr. Huang tells the truth and the whole true. The principles which are applicable are that the Congress has precedence over criminal prosecution because the public policy is better served by legislative change, and it's more important. That could change if you had somebody of very high rank subject to a criminal prosecution, but I believe with Mr. Huang that it is a good idea to give him immunity to find out what he can tell us if, but only if, he tells the truth and he tells the whole story, and that requires discussions with Mr. Huang, consultation with the Justice Department that the final decision on whether immunity would be requested, would be for the committee.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, Sen. Glenn, on this other issue, do you agree with Sen. Thompson that there is clear evidence that China mounted an effort to influence our elections at all levels in 1996?
SEN. JOHN GLENN: Well, we're basing this on some intelligence information, and I preferred to not go quite as far as Sen. Thompson did. And I don't want to much discuss that beyond that point. I think, as the chairman has indicated, we'll have an executive session, which means, I guess, a closed session to go into some of these things. And I think that's fine to do it. I think the statements were made, and I just felt they went a little farther than I was willing to sign onto, but we can work that out in executive session.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Specter, what's your view of that?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: My view is that Sen. Thompson was correct that there is evidence of involvement by the Chinese government at the highest levels and that there were substantial sums of money involved. Sen. Glenn is correct that when you come to amplify that and giving the specifics, it is a very, very difficult area which could involve disclosure of sources and methods. But what Sen. Thompson said was very, very carefully prepared and very, very carefully reviewed, and I think is fully supported by the underlying facts.
SEN. JOHN GLENN: Jim, could I add one thing there?
JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir.
SEN. JOHN GLENN: I think people can read those documents and quite legitimately come to different conclusions about it, depending on what--
JIM LEHRER: You're talking about intelligence documents?
SEN. JOHN GLENN: With some of the documents, yes. And I think we just have an honest disagreement of opinion as to how positive some of those statements are. That's all.
JIM LEHRER: Well, Sen. Glenn, what about the issue of raising something publicly at a public hearing and then say I'm sorry, we can't talk about it to the public?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Well, I think--well, I think that's entirely appropriate. I think you have conclusions where Sen. Thompson, as chairman, makes representations as to what he's seen, and then you have other senators who've examined the evidence and as Sen. Glenn has said there may be a difference of opinion as to precisely how you articulate the conclusions--but there is agreement that there is a basis for what Sen. Thompson has said, although Sen. Glenn doesn't quite agree with it. It's a matter of--matter of nuance.
JIM LEHRER: But what is the public supposed to conclude by this?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Well, the public is supposed to conclude that there are some details as to how you establish that the Chinese government is involved, that if you put the details on the public record and those who were involved heard and saw them, that they would have an idea as to how the information was gathered. And it is entirely customary for the Intelligence Committee, where John and I served last year--I chaired the committee for the last two years--to have these conclusions drawn by responsible public officials without giving the detailed factual basis. Now, we may come to a point soon, hopefully, where we can say more. And as soon as we can, we will.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Glenn.
SEN. JOHN GLENN: Jim, I've had the policy ever since I've been there. I've been in the Senate for twenty-two and a half years, been on the Intelligence Committee for almost nine years now. I'm on the extension on that committee beyond the normal eight-year level. I've made it a policy to say nothing about the intelligence reports unless they've been fully cleared, declassified, and so on. I still think that's the best policy. That way we don't get ourselves in trouble. I've never skated over at the edge and tried to go and say, see, how much we--how close we can get to releasing things that shouldn't be released, so there's just a different view of these things, and in our committee it will be worked out.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Jim, may I add that the standard that Sen. Glenn has just articulated was followed by Sen. Thompson.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let me ask Sen. Glenn a question. Are you going to--are these hearings going to deal with this issue at all, and, if not, why was it brought up?
SEN. JOHN GLENN: Oh, I don't know why it was brought up, and I don't know whether we're going to deal with it. Sen. Thompson said that he wanted to have an executive session one of these days to deal with this, and that's appropriate certainly, and so we'll see what comes out of that hearing, but why it was brought up at this time, particular time, before the executive hearing I don't know.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: May I comment on that?
JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Well, it was brought up because it happens to be a very, very important fact. Here you have John Huang and Wang Jun, and Mrs. Kaladacek and many, many others who are involved on campaign contributions which are illegal. And we know that has been conceded by the Democratic National Committee. And let me say that there are questions raised on the other side. John Glenn and Arlen Specter agree that it ought to be bipartisan. There have been questions raised about Republicans on the national or political forum. But when you have these contributions from foreigners, which are illegal and which are laundered and many of which are returned, well, there's a real question as to what the source is, and that's why Sen. Thompson went into the detail he did.
SEN. JOHN GLENN: I'd have to disagree with that because I don't think that's any excuse for bringing it up. There's one track of foreign money so far. The only proven track of foreign money coming into nay political campaign last year is what came in from Hong Kong, from the Young Brothers' development, through the National Policy Forum--Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican National Committee was used in those races. That we've proven, and at the appropriate time we'll have that to put on. We already have the depositions and so on. I guess that all this other effort is an effort to say, well, the Democrats just did it too because we've already proven that Haley Barbour and that NPF connection. Now, if they want to play that game, okay, they can play that game, but I just don't go along with going as far as the statement went, and I've made that very, very clear.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Well, let's examine the facts, Jim. When Sen. Glenn talks about the National Policy Forum, you've had a lot of newspaper accounts but you haven't had any evidence in the hearings. So when he says it's established, something that he intends to establish--
SEN. JOHN GLENN: No, I don't think so.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: And when we talk about foreign moneys, we have put on the record with Huang Jun how some $50,000 which came from foreign sources, we put on the record today--I showed a complicated chart--$452,000 which came from Indonesian sources, so there's been a lot on the record really both ways.
JIM LEHRER: Is there anything on the record, Sen. Glenn and then Sen. Specter, that shows a connection between any of these contributions that you know about, illegal or otherwise, and the Chinese government?
SEN. JOHN GLENN: Direct, direct proof that the Chinese government was involved, the answer is no. Now whether that will come out or not I don't know, but I know of no direct proof of the Chinese government being involved.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Specter.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Well, the closest that we have to that would be the federal agents warning a number of members of Congress who then made public statements that the federal agents had told them that they might targeted. But we have not nailed this down yet, and that's the purpose of the ongoing investigation and the ongoing hearing. And I think it's important not to draw overly broad conclusions until we move ahead. Listen, today we just had the opening statements. Tomorrow, we hear from the first witness.
SEN. JOHN GLENN: Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir.
SEN. JOHN GLENN: I think let's keep our eye on the ball here. What we're about, we can have these hearings and we can bicker back and forth on these things, and we can have testimony, but unless at the end of the day of this year, unless we have arrived at something that develops a basis for campaign finance reform, we will not have done our job. And that is true for both parties. There's wrong on both sides of it. It's wrong doing things that have to be corrected on both sides of the aisle. We all have to admit that.
But if we get into foreign money, then let's look at it across-the-board where that traffic leads. Let's get into tax exempt organizations where there are also some illegalities and let's look at that. Let's get into third party transfers of money. Let's look into the enormous soft money, unlimited amounts. If we deal with those four areas and look into them without fear of favor this year and lay out the case of how bad this is, we can set the basis for real campaign finance reform. If we spend all of our time just saying, oh, here are some illegalities and we're doing this on illegalities and here's illegalities over here, we will wind up at the end of this year having left the system that bred those illegalities still in place, and that won't accomplish much. What we should be aiming for at the end of this year is certainly going after the illegalities, but let's also go after this whole system that needs to be corrected if we're to restore the faith and trust of the American people.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Jim, let me--
JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Let me say that I agree with everything that Sen. Glenn just said and took the lead in the Republican Caucus early on to broaden the scope to improper, as well as illegal activities. I devoted a portion of my opening statement today to the soft money, and have said that there will not be campaign finance reform unless the American people demand it, and if we do our job right, we will establish a factual basis for that demand. And that's the objective.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Glenn, you mentioned today--Sen. Thompson said it also--that if this is not perceived to be a bipartisan exercise, it isn't going to work. How do you think you got off today?
SEN. JOHN GLENN: Well, I believe it was a little contentious today but not as contentious as some of our previous meetings have been, so maybe we're making some improvement, and I hope we can move on from here. We've--through the efforts of Sen. Levin and Sen. Specter--who put together sort of a compromise package here a couple of weeks ago, I think we are starting from a new base.
Now, maybe it wasn't completely evident today but I do really think we have the opportunity now to move ahead; that if we spend the whole year, and I'm all for doing the illegalities--let's get after those and find the violations of law--but we've got to get back on track of all these other things I mentioned a moment ago if we're going to have real campaign finance reform at the end of the year. Campaign finance reform has been blocked by the Republicans. There are only about two or three Republicans that favor McCain-Feingold and about thirty, I think twenty-eight or thirty Democrats--we fought this year--and try and get campaign finance reform to the floor, and I hope we can finally get it before very long.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Every now and then John makes a contentious statement. John McCain--
SEN. JOHN GLENN: It wasn't contentious. It was fact.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: John McCain was the leader. I broke party ranks to--let me finish--to vote for cloture, and there are some good Republicans who are on the right side of some issues.
JIM LEHRER: How would you rate the beginning today, Sen. Specter?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: I think it was a good start. I think opening statements are tough because they go on some long and there were some disagreements, but I think as congressional hearings go, it was a good start and a good promise. We just have to follow up.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Thank you, gentlemen, very much.