THE WEEK IN REVIEW
August 1, 1997
The Online Explainers take your question on the investigation.
The NewsHour's coverage of the Congressional Investigation.
The inside stories on the political fight behind the public investigation.
The investigation is big news in Washington, but how's it playing around the country.
A closer look at the issues really under scrutiny by the Congress.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON, Chairman, Governmental Affairs Committee: As we know, foreign contributions are illegal. As we know, contributions in the names of another are illegal, and apparently Mr. Trie facilitated both kinds of those contributions.
KWAME HOLMAN: Records obtained by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee showed Trie, a frequent visitor to the White House, contributed $220,000 to the Democratic National Committee and $639,000 to the President's legal expense trust, money from questionable sources that later was returned. With Trie making himself unavailable to testify, the committee this week called on several other witnesses, including FBI Special Agent Jerry Campane to help piece together Charlie Trie's story.
JERRY CAMPANE, FBI: We interviewed a number of Little Rock, Arkansas, and Washington, D.C., area residents, who are familiar with Trie and his businesses. These interviews reveal that Trie rose from a busboy to co-owner, with his sister, of Fu Lin, a Chinese restaurant located just a few blocks from the Arkansas state capitol. Among the politicians who frequented Fu Li and became friends with Charlie Trie was then Governor Bill Clinton. Trie was a strong and vocal Clinton political supporter throughout Clinton's years as governor, and Trie was extremely proud when his friend, Bill Clinton, became President of the United States.
KWAME HOLMAN: The committee heard that Trie hoped to capitalize on his friendship with the President, moving to Washington in 1994, where he set up a consulting business at the famed Watergate Hotel, a residential complex.
JERRY CAMPANE: He used his Watergate venue to host delegations of visiting Chinese businessmen and officials, who gathered for receptions and parties with Trie's local friends and political contacts.
KWAME HOLMAN: Bank records show Tri got periodic wire transfers totaling $900,000 from the Portuguese territory of Macao and from a business associate named Umlat Seng.
JERRY CAMPANE: I'm going to refer to him by the Mandarin version of his name, which is Mr. Wu.
KWAME HOLMAN: A committee chart showed the complex method Wu and Trie apparently used to transfer money through several business entities before contributing it to the Democratic National Committee.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: Do you solemnly swear that the testimony you're about to give--
KWAME HOLMAN: And the committee heard testimony from two women, legal residents of the United States, who wrote checks totaling $25,000 to the DNC on Mr. Wu's behalf. Wu, who could not contribute legally himself, immediately reimbursed the women and gained access to a fund-raising dinner attended by the President.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R) Pennsylvania: Did you know, Ms. Chu, at the time you had written these checks that this was an illegal transaction to get Mr. Wu into the dinner?
YUE F. CHU: (speaking through interpreter) At the time I had no idea.
KWAME HOLMAN: And the committee could not trace the source of Mr. Wu's money beyond his Macao bank account.
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R) Maine: You don't yet know whether this was Mr. Wu's own money, or whether he, himself, was serving as a conduit for others, is that correct?
JERRY CAMPANE: That is correct, Senator. We attempted to interview Mr. Wu when we--our investigators traveled to Asia. He would refuse to submit to an interview for us.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: So we're up against a blind wall in really answering the question which we're all looking for as to whether the source of the funds was the government of China in any definitive, provable way, aren't we?
JERRY CAMPANE: That is correct, Senator.
KWAME HOLMAN: Nor could the committee make a direct China connection to the money Charlie Trie raised for President Clinton's Legal Expense Trust. Michael Cardozo, the trust executor, told the committee Trie paid him a visit carrying a manila envelope and dumped out money orders and checks totaling $460,000.
MARK TIPPS, Deputy Chief Counsel: In your deposition, you told me that your--I believe your exact phrase was your suspicions were rising by the minute. Is that an accurate portrayal of how you felt at about that time?
MICHAEL CARDOZO, Presidential Legal Expense Trust: Yes, it is.
KWAME HOLMAN: Cardozo said Trie visited him a second time, carrying a big bag.
MARK TIPPS: What was your reaction when you saw him coming with that bag?
MICHAEL CARDOZO: Well, it was a large shopping bag, and it was heavily laden, and I said to myself, oh, my God, he's got a million dollars this time.
KWAME HOLMAN: It was only $179,000. Cardozo hired a team of private investigators to trace the source of the contributions. They told the committee their investigation led them to a woman named Ching Hai and to members of the Taiwan-based Buddhist sect that bears her name.
LOREN BERGER, Investigative Group International: Some of the contributors did not appear to have the economic wherewithal to make $1,000 contributions. Some of the money orders and cashiers' checks looked suspect in terms of similar handwriting on these documents, despite the fact they were signed by many different names. And thirdly, I learned from talking with people who are familiar with Ching Hai's organization, that there may have been some coercion involved in her general practices of raising money from her followers simply because of the level of influence that she has on her group.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Zhi Hua Dong, who attended a 1996 Buddhist sect meeting in New York, at which the money was raised, told the committee sect leader Ching Hai did not pressure members to give.
ZHI HUA DONG, Ching Hai Meditation Society: I would say it's more accurate to say that Master encouraged the people there to help Clinton by contributing up to $1,000.
MARK TIPPS: Okay. So you feel like it was more of encouragement, is that accurate?
ZHI HUA DONG: yes.
MARK TIPPS: All right. And I believe you said in your deposition, okay, so now we can help-- you're American citizens--if you agree we can contribute up to $1,000 to the legal defense fund, right?
ZHI HUA DONG: That's right.
MARK TIPPS: Okay.
KWAME HOLMAN: Throughout the week, investigators could provide little to the committee as to what might have motivated Ching Hai to involve herself or members of her sect in donating to President Clinton's legal fund.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, (D) Connecticut: Do you have any idea about why "they" would have contributed money or wanted to, to the legal expense trust?
LOREN BERGER: Well, the sensible answer of many of the contributors we spoke with was that there was strong support for President Clinton as "a man of peace," and just a very favorable view of the President and a willingness to help him in his legal problems.
KWAME HOLMAN: Yesterday afternoon, Chairman Thompson adjourned the hearings until September, but at a background briefing today, Thompson said the committee still hopes to get answers to many of the questions that remain from the first four weeks of hearing. And the committee also will examine the role played by issue advocacy groups and unlimited soft money contributions made during the 1996 election.