July 24, 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. DICK DURBIN, (D) Illinois: Well, there are some serious questions that still go unanswered. I have to say this at the outset. Give credit to Mr. Barbour. He appeared voluntarily. He came in without claiming immunity, without exercising any constitutional privilege. And he's answered our questions and some of them have been tough questions. But I think by the end of the day most who have watched this will understand there are some inconsistencies in memory. For instance, when and at what point did the Republican National Committee and the National Policy Forum realize this money was coming out of Hong Kong and through a very small business operation in Florida? Why was there such a mad dash to bring the money in the closing days of the 1994 campaign, a campaign which turned out to be a watershed campaign in America's recent political history?
Many of us believe it was because there were states that needed--state Republican organizations that needed soft money infusions at the very end to make a critical difference. So I think it's raised questions about the involvement of foreign money, and it certainly raises questions about whether or not we can reform and change this system.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Cochran, what's your assessment of today's testimony and what Haley Barbour had to say on the legality and propriety of what went on here?
SEN. THAD COCHRAN, (R) Mississippi: Well, I think very clearly Haley Barbour's testimony helped us understand the relationship between the Republican National Committee and this National Policy Forum. The Forum was an effort to develop a discussion throughout the country in a number of public meetings about issues that ought to be considered by the Republican Party, or the nation's government for heading our country in the right direction, whether this was on crime or policy issues involving taxes, or the economy. And that's what it was about. It was not involved in political campaigns, as many have suggested that it was directly or indirectly. It was not in any way, shape, or form involved in contributing to candidates, or helping to elect candidates, or to defeat candidates. So we understood that, I think, a lot better after his testimony. And secondarily, we found out that whether or not a loan was repaid to the RNC by the Policy Forum before the election had nothing whatsoever to do with the contributions that the RNC was spending to help in the campaign elect Republican candidates. These were separate accounts that there was no connection between repayment of the loan; and the infusion into state parties or campaigns by the RNC of election funds in its federal account.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Durbin, address that point, because many of your fellow--your fellow Democratic colleagues have equated the loss of some of these Democratic seats with this infusion of money. But we heard Haley Barbour say, we didn't need the money and it was in totally separate accounts.
SEN. DICK DURBIN: Well, I asked Haley Barbour that question directly. I couldn't understand why he said that the Republican committee with soft money that goes back to the states for these campaigns had $5 million on hand on October 20th, and didn't really need this money from Hong Kong. And I looked and found the FEC report, the Federal Election Report from that same committee, that showed they had $713,000 on hand. When I pressed Mr. Barbour on the point, he said, well, I wanted to make it clear that we could have borrowed the additional money if necessary. Well, they didn't borrow it. They ended up taking the money through this National Policy Forum from Hong Kong and using it and distributing it to the states. Those who follow the arcane federal laws know that though we're talking about soft money, it's money that can have a real impact on election. And certainly the 1994 election, as I mentioned earlier, was a watershed election, and in a lot of areas a few dollars made a big difference in closing days.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. I want to make sure I understand this. You're saying that the chart that Haley Barbour showed at the hearing, which showed, oh, we had another two or three million, that under questioning from you he acknowledged, well, they didn't really have it.
SEN. DICK DURBIN: They didn't have it.
MARGARET WARNER: They could have borrowed it.
SEN. DICK DURBIN: No. He referred to a line of credit. They had $713,000 on hand. They could have borrowed, he said, up to $5 million. Well, they didn't borrow it. They ended up receiving the money from the National Policy Forum through North Korea and using that money directly, so they didn't have to borrow it. In fact, that became the soft money that made a difference in a lot of states.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Sen. Cochran, is that how you see it?
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: I disagree very strongly with that conclusion, and I think a review of the facts and also of Mr. Barbour's testimony shows that they have ample funds to do what they did in contributing to state party funds, to help in the election turnout, and to help in the campaigns of candidates that year in the federal election. One thing to remember, we're studying and reviewing the 1996 election campaigns. This is a '94 event. It's interesting that all of our effort so far has been to look at the presidential and congressional and party activities in the '96 cycle where we're spending an awful lot of time on '94. It makes you wonder, you know, whether we really had any evidence or information that would implicate the RNC in the '96 campaign. I think the conclusion is that it's really clean. And that's one thing that I think Haley Barbour's testimony today proves.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with that, Sen. Durbin?
SEN. DICK DURBIN: Well, I think that the evidence would have to speak for itself, but what we have here is--are a lot of questions, frankly, of Democrats and Republicans about fund-raising with foreign money. I will concede, and I think Sen. Cochran would be the first to concede as well, that there has been evidence in the first two weeks that the Democratic Party raised money overseas it should not have raised. In fact, one of the hearings resulted in $50,000 being refunded by the Democratic National Committee. Well, it turns out the Republican National Committee had to refund over $100,000 for a similar situation. I hope it leads us beyond this gotcha phase to suggest that we ought to change the system, maybe clean it up and talk about eliminating this foreign money, and its involvement at virtually any level in our political process.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Sen. Cochran, go back to the last two weeks, and what, in a nutshell, do you think Republicans have been able to demonstrate about the Democrats' fund-raising practices?
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: Well, first of all, this is a comprehensive review of activities in the last federal election campaign. And I think our effort is to look, first of all, at illegal activities to determine what, if anything, we should do to help clarify the law, so that everybody understands what's legal and illegal. There are a lot of questions about the President's election campaign and raising funds at the White House, using federal resources for that purpose, which is clearly prohibited by current law. This is a very important part of our investigation as well, although we are looking at changes that should be made in the law. And if we can come up with the recommendations to improve the system, we will do that as well.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think, Sen. Cochran, that what's been demonstrated about each party--and I know you're not finished yet--but is roughly on a par, and that they're roughly equal?
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: No, I disagree with that. I think it's very obvious that there are a lot of transgressions that have been uncovered that we know happened in the '96 campaign. John Huang, for example, an employee at the Department of Commerce, was very actively involved in helping raise money, being given credit for campaign donations to the Democratic National Committee at a time when he was deputy assistant secretary of commerce. That was clearly an illegal act, and there are also questions about other officials in the administration using the White House for purely political purposes, and whether or not that was also violative of current law.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Durbin, your view of whether they're roughly on a par.
SEN. DICK DURBIN: Well, I think we're going to find that if we look at the sweep of history over the last six years, that both political parties have ample share of embarrassment here. We have seen the vice chairman of the Republican fund-raising effort found guilty of laundering substantial sums of money. I wouldn't be surprised if we find misconduct on the part of Mr. Huang. Certainly, there have been a lot of suggestions along those lines. I'm not going to try to find excuses for either. I think they both should be held accountable, as Mr. Fierman was. But let's see when it's all over whether we get the real message from the American people and change the system. It just isn't enough to investigate it; we have to reform it.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And very briefly, Sen. Cochran, before we go, why did the committee decide to override Justice Department objections and grant immunity to these four Buddhist nuns and this one other fund-raiser?
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: Most of our committee members concluded that we were given no good reason not to grant immunity to these individuals. They have information that we think can be helpful in understanding the extent to which laws may have been violated in connection with fund-raising in the federal election campaign for the President in the last cycle. Our investigation is not over. We have a lot more to learn. And questioning these witnesses can lead us to the truth.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Durbin, you were nodding. You Democrats agreed--
SEN. DICK DURBIN: I voted with Sen. Thompson and Sen. Cochran, for that matter, on four of the five requests for immunity. The Department of Justice just gave us no basis to walk away from these witnesses. I think they can bring important evidence to the investigation.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you both, Senators, very much.
SEN. THAD COCHRAN: Thank you.