EXAMINING THE NPF
July 25, 1997
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HALEY BARBOUR, Former RNC Chairman: The RNC had the funds available to pay for all that was done in the 1994 campaigns, with $3 million or more to spare, even if it had not gotten back any of the money it loaned the National Policy Forum.
KWAME HOLMAN: But that's not quite the story Richard Richards told the committee today.
RICHARD RICHARDS, Young Brothers USA: Chairman Barber spoke to me on the phone and told me that he felt like the Republican Party had an opportunity to gain control of the House of Representatives for the first time in decades. And public opinion surveys showed him that that was a realistic goal. Frankly, I never thought I would see the time in my lifetime that Republicans won the House majority, but he told me that was the case, and said we have a problem. We, at the national committee, have loaned the Forum $3 million--$3.3 million, some amount in excess of $3 million--of money that we can use in the campaign but we've got a problem. We need to be able to take it out of the Forum for our purposes, and we can't take it out unless we replace it with something because the Forum has overhead and other expenses. And I understand you represent a well-to-do Chinese fellow in Hong Kong who has previously been a beneficiary to the Republican Party. Would you be willing to talk to him about loaning us $3 million for that purpose?
SEN. DICK DURBIN, (D) Illinois: Mr. Richards, the reason obviously that I've raised this is that after Mr. Barbour's testimony yesterday, he virtually dismissed this money and said it wasn't necessary; we were flush in our account in terms of soft money, and if we thought they were flush with money, we probably would not have entered into the discussion.
KWAME HOLMAN: But then again, Richards said, he couldn't say for sure whether the loan money ended up in the campaigns of Republican congressional candidates.
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT, (R) Utah: So you're not in a position to dispute Mr. Barbour's statement that it went to state campaign and soft dollar area, rather than to congressional campaigns?
RICHARD RICHARDS: No, I'm not.
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: Thank you. You have no reason to believe that Mr. Barbour committed perjury when he said under oath that that was the case?
RICHARD RICHARDS: No, no.
SEN. ROBERT BENNETT: I see. I have no reason to believe that either.
KWAME HOLMAN: But yesterday Barbour also insisted he didn't know until this year that the money for the $2 million loan guarantee came from Ambrose Young's Hong Kong company.
HALEY BARBOUR: Although the source of funds makes no difference to the legality of these transactions, to the best of my recollection, I only found out this year that YBD USA had used funds borrowed from Hong Kong to collateralize the Signet Bank loan.
KWAME HOLMAN: But once again that conflicted with the story Richard Richards told today.
ALAN BARON: Between the time of this conversation and the time on October 13th, when the loan was consummated, did you have any discussions with Mr. Barbour as to the source of the money that would be used to collateralize what ultimately was a loan guarantee?
RICHARD RICHARDS: Well, the only thing I told him is the money would be transferred from Young Brothers Hong Kong to Young Brothers USA for that purpose.
KWAME HOLMAN: This was the week Democrats were given the chance to turn the focus of the committee's investigation on to the Republicans. And their first witness this morning was Donald Stern, the United States Attorney in Boston who told the story of Simon Fireman, a Massachusetts businessman who last October pleaded guilty to funneling $120,000 from his swimsuit company to support both Republican and Democratic candidates.
DONALD STERN, U.S. Attorney: Between 1991 and 1995, Mr. Fireman and Aqualeisure funneled more than $120,000 to the Republican National Committee, the Citizens for Joe Kennedy Committee, the Bush-Quayle '92, and the Dole presidential campaigns. During the conspiracy Mr. Fireman--with the participation of Carol Nichols, his assistant--had money wire-transferred from a Hong Kong trust to a bank account in the United States. Funds were then converted into cash and provided to employees of Mr. Fireman's company Aqualeisure, and others, so that the individuals could then write out checks of $100,000 to the various campaigns or $4,000 checks to the Republican National Committee.
KWAME HOLMAN: Stern said the money from the Hong Kong trust belonged to Simon Fireman, who did not contest the charges against him.
DONALD STERN: Mr. Fireman pleaded guilty, and the judge sentenced him to six months home detention and one year probation. In addition, he was fined $1 million. Ms. Nichols was sentenced to four months home detention, fined $7500, and placed on $1 million probation. The corporation, Aqualeisure, was fined $5 million and placed on four years probation.
KWAME HOLMAN: Stern's testimony was neatly packaged and left members with little need to follow up with questions.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Stern. Thank you for being here with us today. I don't know how much more blood we can squeeze out of this particular turnip.
KWAME HOLMAN: Throughout the week, Committee Republicans have charged the testimony of the Democrats' witnesses is not relevant to the scope of the current investigation. The charge has ignited several partisan flare-ups, including this exchange between Senators Domenici and Glenn last night.
SEN. PETE DOMENICI, (R) New Mexico: Now, let me tell you, Senator, you've been here a long time, and you have a great reputation, and it's too bad that in these hearings you're not helping us get the facts. You got the facts from the Republicans. We need you to tell the attorney general of the United States to let us have the facts.
SEN. JOHN GLENN, (D) Ohio: I told them that.
SEN. PETE DOMENICI: You ought to go out on the stump and say it. In the meantime, we sit here, spending three days on three Republican witnesses, on a dry hole. And there's evidence all over the place about something going wrong in that last election. And we need your help. You're a stalwart around here for fairness and equity, and what's going on isn't fair. That's as certain as anything. We're not going to get anything out of these hearings, so long as that attorney general has control of everything, and you know it, and the President knows it. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. JOHN GLENN: Mr. Chairman, I never heard such a misrepresentation of my views. Never have I said we would excuse any illegality. I've been the one saying let's get the illegalities, but let's not leave a system in place that says that we are then going to leave the same system in place that's going to spawn more illegalities in the future. I want to deal with foreign money. I have said repeatedly I've talked to the attorney general. I wanted to get anyone we can over here. On our side we have voted for immunity where we knew what the proper was and had some idea, and yesterday, even beyond that, we went ahead and voted immunity, in spite of what the attorney general says. I think that shows where we stand. If I had any way of getting all the witnesses back here, you're laying something at my doorstep. I have no control over whatsoever; I don't know these 50 witnesses. I don't know where they are.
KWAME HOLMAN: By the end of today's hearing the partisan disagreements have died down. The committee resumes its hearings next week.