QUESTIONING THE REPUBLICANS
July 23, 1997
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SEN. FRED THOMPSON, Chairman, Governmental Affairs Committee: And I think they're in a conflict situation, and specifically with regard to four of the five individuals here. It has to do with an event, which is under great suspicion it had to do with the President's campaign coffers, and it had to do with the attendance of the Vice President. I could not think of a situation that puts the Justice Department in more of a conflict in determining whether or not it wants to hear evidence with regard to that matter.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrat Joseph Lieberman, the former state attorney general in Connecticut, said he didn't believe the witnesses in question were that crucial to the committee's investigation.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, (D) Connecticut: I personally conclude that while these five would, if I may put it this way, add texture to what we will otherwise be able to prove here. Their value to us is not so significantly so great that it justifies what this immunity will do to the criminal proceedings.
KWAME HOLMAN: But on the immunity issue Lieberman was in the minority, even among Democrats. Illinois Democrat Richard Durbin supported four of the five immunity grants, and he too criticized the Justice Department.
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN, (D) Illinois: Our meeting with them yesterday was little more than another lesson in constitutional law in terms of the separation of powers and was not in any way helpful in terms of making this decision. I felt then and feel now that we are now as individuals responsible for deciding each and every case when it comes to immunity.
KWAME HOLMAN: All nine Committee Republicans voted to approve the five grants of immunity, and most of the Democrats did as well.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: All right. Immunity will be processed for all five of those individuals.
KWAME HOLMAN: The committee then moved on, and Democrats got their first chance during these hearings to examine allegations of Republican campaign fund-raising abuse.
SEN. JOHN GLENN, (D) Ohio: In the next few days we will show that the congressional elections of 1994 and 1996 were influenced by foreign money coming to Republican candidates via the Republican National Committee, which laundered the money, through the national policy forum headed by Haley Harbour at the same time he was chairman of the Republican National Committee.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Democrats' first witness was Benton Becker, an attorney representing Hong Kong businessman Ambrose Young, who was a citizen of Taiwan.
BENTON BECKER, Counsel, Young Brothers, Inc.: Mr. Young has voluntarily given a sworn deposition to this committee's staff and has authorized me to appear and provide you with information concerning his dealings with the Republican National Committee and the National Policy Forum. In bringing these facts for the committee, to help the committee in its important work.
KWAME HOLMAN: Becker proceeded to lay out what already has been widely reported in the press; that in 1994 Ambrose Young's Young Brothers Development Company of Hong Kong through a U.S. subsidiary provided the collateral for a $2.1 million loan to the National Policy Forum, a now defunct conservative issues group. The NPF then sent $1.6 million to the Republican National Committee as payment of a debt. The RNC reportedly plugged that money into some hotly contested congressional races just before the 1994 election. Putting all this into motion was Haley Barbour, then chairman of the RNC and founder of the National Policy Forum. Becker said Haley Barbour pursued the loan from Ambrose Young and guaranteed it would be repaid.
BENTON BECKER: The result of those conversations was a letter written to me by Mr. Barbour dated August 30, 1994, wherein Mr. Barber wrote: "Because NPF"--that's National Policy Forum-- "is separate from the Republican National Committee, the RNC is not automatically responsible for its debt. Nevertheless, I am committed to making sure NPF raises sufficient funds to cover its operation and pay off any and all its debt. Moreover, as chairman of the RNC, in the event NPF defaults on any debt, I will ask the Republican National Committee to authorize me to guarantee and pay off any NPF debt."
KWAME HOLMAN: But Becker said less than a year into the loan agreement Haley Barbour asked to be let out of it.
BENTON BECKER: At his deposition Mr. Young testified that this request from Mr. Barbour was unexpected and categorically refused. His response was--and I am quoting from Mr. Young's deposition-- "I said no in the matter of an apology."
KWAME HOLMAN: Becker said eventually the National Policy Forum stopped making payments on the loan.
BENTON BECKER: The National Policy Forum failed to make the payment, when due, to the bank, and the National Policy Forum informed the bank without informing YBD USA, or Mr. Young, that the National Policy Forum would make no further payments to the bank on its loan, thereby forfeiting the balance of the collateral posted by YBD USA and at the time in the amount of approximately $1.5 million. The notice of default was issued by the bank, which understandably caused great concern to Mr. Young.
KWAME HOLMAN: Attorney Becker said his client, Ambrose Young, considered legal action against the National Policy Forum and the RNC before a settlement was reached.
BENTON BECKER: Ultimately, Mr. Young agreed to Mr. Barber's settlement offer of $800,000, which was slightly more than the outstanding loss sustained by the corporation.
KWAME HOLMAN: While not excusing NPF's default on the loan, Chairman Thompson pointed out that no one questions the propriety of the loan at the time it was made.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: It was known and understood that there was this indebtedness from the National Policy Forum to you say the RNC. It's a particular account. We can discuss that later. And that the intent of this guarantee was to allow the NPF to borrow this money to partially pay off this debt, is that not correct?
BENTON BECKER: Indeed.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: You wanted to make sure you did not run afoul of federal election laws with regard to this transaction, is that correct?
BENTON BECKER: We were, indeed, sir.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: And is it fair to assume that you felt that this transaction did not run afoul of those loans?
BENTON BECKER: I was of that opinion and independent counsel that was engaged also was of that opinion. And independent counsel that was engaged also was of that opinion.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Becker did not respond to Democrat Robert Torricelli's statement on how that loan money eventually was used.
SEN. ROBERT TORRICELLI, (D) New Jersey: Mr. Darden of Georgia, lost by 5,000 votes; Congressman Klein of New Jersey by 2,000 votes; Mr. Strickland of Ohio by 3,000 votes; Chairman Brooks of Texas by 5,000 votes. Each and every one of the Republican Parties in those states received tens of thousands of dollars collectively. This $2 million of freed-up funds was distributed throughout the United States, money that came from a Hong Kong corporation of an individual who'd renounced his American citizenship and was a citizen of the Republic of Taiwan.
KWAME HOLMAN: One man who can answer Torricelli's charge will testify tomorrow, Haley Barbour.