October 9, 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.
KWAME HOLMAN: After much delay the House Government Reform Committee this morning finally called its first witnesses as the committee began its investigation of campaign fund-raising abuses during the 1996 presidential campaign.
REP. DAN BURTON, Chairman, Government Reform Committee: We have three witnesses today. These individuals have admitted to making conduit contributions to the Democratic National Committee. Testifying on our first panel will be Manlin Fong, the sister of Charlie Trie. Joining her will be her companion, Joseph Landon. Testifying on our second panel will be David Wang, a businessman from Los Angeles. Our witnesses today are not villains; they are victims. They are ordinary people who were put on the spot by someone they trusted, and they got burned.
KWAME HOLMAN: Committee Chairman Dan Burton was referring to Ya Lin Charlie Trie, a former Little Rock, Arkansas restauranteur and longtime associate of President Clinton's, who's suspected of funneling illegal foreign contributions to the Democratic National Committee.
REP. DAN BURTON: Ms. Fong and Mr. Landon contributed $35,000 to the DNC in 1996 at Charlie Trie's request. They were promptly reimbursed for each contribution. Our investigators have traced $10,000 of this amount directly back to the Bank of China in Macao.
KWAME HOLMAN: However, the witnesses--subpoenaed and appearing under grants of immunity--wouldn't answer any questions before television cameras, a right granted under House rules.
REP. DAN BURTON: While I'm disappointed that this hearing will not be televised, we believe the American people have the right to know what these witnesses have to say.
KWAME HOLMAN: But once the cameras left the room Manlin Fong said she knew little about her brother's business practices and nothing about his political activities. She said she made contributions to the DNC simply because he asked her to. Landon gave similar answers. Well aware of what the witnesses would say based on their earlier depositions the committee's top Democrat, Henry Waxman, questioned the need to hear from them since the Thompson committee on the Senate side had heard the same stories from similar witnesses three months ago.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN, (D) California: There is nothing in their deposition that ads to the knowledge to what Sen. Thompson uncovered in his July 19 hearing.
KWAME HOLMAN: and as for the third witness, David Wang, Waxman accused him of giving false testimony because in his deposition Wang claimed to have meet with DNC fund-raiser John Huang on a day when records show Huang actually was three thousand miles away.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN: It is now clear that David Wang never should have received immunity. He has repeatedly misled this committee and Chairman Burton and his staff and our staff. The essence of his testimony appeared to be a fiction.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON, Chairman, Governmental Affairs Committee: Let's come to order, please.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, at the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee members spent a second straight day looking into how fund-raising abuses during the 1996 presidential campaign may have intersected with illegalities in a number prominent national election. Last December Ron Carey narrowly was elected president of the Teamsters Union, an election plagued by charges Carey's supporters used a variety of improper methods to raise campaign funds. The alleged schemes now are being investigated by several entities, including a federal grand jury in New York. This morning Senate Committee Chairman Fred Thompson described a so-called contribution swap involving the Teamsters Union and the Democratic National Committee.
SEN. FRED THOMPSON: The swap will we will look at today is relatively simple. The plan was the DNC persuades a wealthy donor to give $100,000 to Ron Carey's election campaign. In return, the Teamsters contribute some multiple of that amount, perhaps a million dollars out of its Treasury or PAC funds to the DNC and state Democratic Parties. It's not a bad deal for the DNC, but it's illegal.
KWAME HOLMAN: The witness was Mark Thomann, a DNC fund-raiser. He described pursuing a Filipino businesswoman named Judith Vasquez as a potential donor.
MARK THOMANN, Former Midwest Finance Director, DNC: I talked to a number of individuals close to Judith Vasquez to ascertain that Ms. Vasquez did not hold a green card, nor was she a resident of the United States, therefore, direct donation to the Democratic National Committee and/or an in kind contribution to the Democratic National Committee was not--was not legal.
KWAME HOLMAN: Thomann said he spoke to his superior, then DNC Deputy Finance Director Richard Sullivan.
MARK THOMANN: You've said we have a change of direction, would she--and she being Judith Vasquez--be willing to contribute to the Teamsters for a Corruption Free Union. I laughed at the name of the committee, having no knowledge of what that Teamsters for a Corruption Free Union was. It sounded a little bit strange. And Richard also laughed when he told me the name. And I asked what the--what the committee was. At that time he told me it was a Ron Carey committee. And I asked at that point what the legalities of her--and her being Judith Vasquez--would be as far as contributing to this committee. And he went over the parameters of legality.
HAROLD DAMELIN, Sr. Majority Counsel: Now, using again your words in the deposition is it fair to say that you were "upset and distraught" because the DNC had put you in the position of asking a donor to give to a labor campaign?
MARK THOMANN: I was upset at the pressure that I was receiving mainly from the Teamsters directly. I was upset and distraught. That is an accurate description of how I was feeling at the time.
KWAME HOLMAN: Thomann said he found a way out of his dilemma when he discovered Vasquez was an employer. Employers are barred under the U.S. labor law from contributing to union elections.
MARK THOMANN: The reason she couldn't contribute to the Teamsters for a Corruption Free Union was that her holding company--and I believe that's how you'd refer to it as-- had a 116 employees. That was my way of--my way out. It didn't meet the parameters that I was given. So I did tell Nathaniel 216 employees--that was my way of--my way out--it didn't meet the parameters that I was given.
KWAME HOLMAN: This afternoon the committee's very first witness last July and Thomann's former superior at the DNC, Richard Sullivan, gave an angry statement about his recent treatment by investigators for the Republican-controlled committee.
RICHARD SULLIVAN, Former Finance Director, DNC: When U.S. marshals interrogate my 70 year old, sickly next door neighbor about my whereabouts, that has a cost. When they flash their badges at my landlord, who I hope may someday serve as a reference when I want to buy a home of my own, that has a cost. And when the committee's staff treat me and my testimony as nothing more than a political issue, they can exploit for partisan purposes, irrespective of the truth, that too has a cost.
KWAME HOLMAN: Sullivan then went on to deny he told Mark Thomann to secure a contribution to the Ron Carey campaign from business woman Vasquez.
RICHARD SULLIVAN: I am aware that Mark recalls that I instructed him to have this woman make a contribution to the Carey campaign. I do not recall being that definitive with him, but I am not bothered by the difference which is hardly material. Our recollections are clear on the key points judged by any objective standard that I asked him to determine the woman's willingness to contribute; that I asked that the legal requirements be checked; that those requirements were not satisfied; and that she did not contribute.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: On that state of your testimony isn't it pretty plain that it was a direct quid pro quo, a direct swap?
RICHARD SULLIVAN: Were you here when I read my opening statement?
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Yes, I was, and I read it again.
RICHARD SULLIVAN: I said clearly I did not consider this a swap, a scheme, or a quid pro quo.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Well, you'll pardon me, Mr. Sullivan, if I do not accept your opening statement.
KWAME HOLMAN: After a sometimes contentious partisan debate, Chairman Thompson denied Democratic subpoena requests and the Republican majority voted to subpoena the White House Communications Agency for any remaining videotapes of White House coffees. The Senate Committee is scheduled to reconvene October 21st.