MARCH 11, 1997
Following a concession by the Republican leadership, the Senate today expanded the focus of its campaign finance investigation to cover all "improper" actions during the 1996 elections. Democrats agreed to the new jurisdiction and said they would use the committee to look into soft money and other legal, but "unseemly," finances and to propose campaign reform. Following a background report from Kwame Holman, Margaret Warner discusses the day's events with Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Thad Cochran (R-MS).
KWAME HOLMAN: While the Senate debated the scope of its upcoming investigation into fund-raising practices during the 1996 election, Republicans made it clear what their main area of focus would be.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
March 11, 1997:
Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Thad Cochran (R-MS) discuss the Senate investigation.
March 6, 1997:
Two former White House lawyers discuss the legality of Vice President's fund-raising.
March 4, 1997:
Presidential historians, journalist/author Haynes Johnson and William Kristol, editor and publisher of The Weekly Standard discuss money and politics.
March 3, 1997:
Vice President Gore said he did nothing illegal or wrong when he solicited funds for the 1996 presidential campaigns.
February 27, 1997:
Jim Lehrer leads a discussion on the accusations against the White House campaign financing team .
February 25, 1997:
Elizabeth Farnsworth discusses the growing DNC fund raising scandal with White House Special Counsel Lanny Davis.
November 28, 1996:
Margaret Warner discusses campaign finance reform with three members of Congress.
November 28, 1996:
The NewsHour's Kwame Holman reports on this year's efforts to reform campaign financing and how "soft money" may have been the biggest story of this election.
November 18, 1996:
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) discusses campaign finance reform and his party's role in the 105th Congress.
October 25, 1996:
Mark Shields and Paul Gigot discuss the role of money in this election year.
October 24, 1996:
Ross Perot blasts what he sees as President Clinton's corruption.
Browse the Online NewsHour's Congressional coverage.
SEN. THAD COCHRAN, (R) Mississippi: Here we have the three persons I was talking about here where there is clear evidence of a lot of fund-raising activity, a lot of access with the White House, and with top officials in the administration, one working at the Department of Commerce. This is John Huang--
KWAME HOLMAN: Questions about the fund-raising activities of three Chinese-Americans are what first prompted calls for congressional investigation. Now there are allegations the Chinese government also might have played a role in contributing to federal campaigns. Some Republicans insisted the China link alone was reason enough to focus the upcoming investigation solely on illegal activities that may have occurred during the ‘96 campaign.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R) Utah: Did a foreign government try to influence our national elections and our domestic and/or foreign policy? No. 2, were millions of dollars of foreign money laundered through various groups to the Democratic National Committee, particularly by three individuals, but not limited to those three, but three individuals in particular--Charlie Tree, Johnny Chung, and John Huang--all of whom have some extensive ties to China. No. 3, were there violations of many of our existing laws, such as the Hatch Act, the Ethics in Government Act, and our current federal elections laws. This particular investigation is a mess. We cannot allow ourselves in an attempt to satisfy tendentious cause for a broad inquiry into congressional campaigns to interfere with what is a serious matter.
KWAME HOLMAN: Originally, Sen. Fred Thompson, chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, wanted to conduct a wide-ranging investigation into the ‘96 campaign. Last month, his committee voted unanimously to have the probe look at both presidential and congressional campaigns and at both illegal and legal fund-raising activities. But that plan was shelved last week by Thompson's fellow Republicans in the Senate Rules Committee. At that hearing Wendell Ford, the ranking Democrat on the Committee, pushed Thompson to admit he had given in to his colleagues.
SEN. WENDELL FORD, (D) Kentucky: I want to get back to what you and Sen. Glenn agreed to, and I think that part of it I want to see maintained. I see that eroding, and I see that you're accepting that as a good soldier.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON, Chairman, Governmental Affairs Committee: Well, don't jump to any conclusions.
SEN. WENDELL FORD: Well, I've got to because that's all I've got. I'm not included in the conversation, how this came about.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: Well, I've not been included in them for very long.
SEN. WENDELL FORD: That's a large and growing crowd.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: Let me tell you about that, if I may take a minute. I think that it's been pretty apparent that I've been pretty forceful in terms of the way that I thought this thing ought to go. I'm not going to go back on what committee voted out unanimously in terms of my thoughts and positions. I feel today just like I felt all along. But I've been driving--we're a big stock car country down where I come from, and it occurs to me that I've been driving that old car about as close to the car as I can without crashing it. And I've got to decide whether or not I want to risk crashing it or finish the race. And as many members have said here today, they feel like that this is the way to go and maybe the only thing that will go.
KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon it became apparent that some moderate Republicans were having doubts about a limited investigation.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R) Pennsylvania: I think that where you have a scope that goes only to illegal activities that is very, very hard to define.
KWAME HOLMAN: As a result, when Republicans returned from their weekly party luncheon, they told Democrats of a change in plans. They would agree to broaden the fund-raising investigation. Majority Leader Trent Lott then made the announcement.
SEN. TRENT LOTT, Majority Leader: Just for further clarification it would add to "illegal" the words "and improper."
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats, who had been pushing for a broad investigation from the start, suddenly had a victory.
SEN. THOMAS DASCHLE, Minority Leader: I think what the majority leader is proposing here goes a long way to resolving one of the issues that divided Democrats and Republicans, and I think first I commend him and commend those responsible for offering this amendment. What this would do is to add the word "improper" at the appropriate places within the authorization to allow us to look at both improper and illegal activity. So, as I say, this goes a long way to resolving the conflict that we've discussed now for some time and that was the subject of debate this morning.
KWAME HOLMAN: With that change the Senate now is moving toward a final vote to approve a wide-ranging investigation into the campaign fund-raising practices of 1996.