September 5, 1997
It was an interesting week in politics: Vice President Al Gore fell under investigation for illegal campaign financing, and, for the first time in memory, Buddhist nuns testified on the Hill. After this background report by Tom Bearden, Jim Lehrer reviews the week in politics with our pundits Mark Shields and Paul Gigot.
TOM BEARDEN: Republicans on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee spent much of their day sparring with David Strauss - Vice President Goreís former deputy chief of staff. At issue was the Vice President's visit to a Buddhist Temple near Los Angeles on April 29th, 1996.
A RealAudio version of this report is available.
September 5, 1997:
Shields and Gigot discuss this week's campaign financing investigation.
September 4, 1997:
Two senators and a reporter discuss the Justice Department investigation into Gore's action.
September 4, 1997:
Tom Bearden reports on the first day's hearing back from the August break.
March 3, 1997:
Margaret Warner discusses Al Gore's press conference with two senators.
February 27, 1997:
Jim Lehrer leads a discussion on the accusations against the White House campaign financing team .
February 25, 1997:
Elizabeth Farnsworth discusses the growing DNC fund raising scandal with White House Special Counsel Lanny Davis and chair of the House investigation Dan Burton (R-IN).
Browse the Online NewsHour's campaign finance and Congressional coverage.
SEN. DON NICKLES, (R) Oklahoma: To act like this wasnít a fund-raising event just really defies credibility. And keep in mind, youíre under oath.
>DAVID STRAUSS, Former VP Deputy Chief of Staff: Iím very well aware that Iím under oath. I was the person who was solely responsible for telling the Vice President what this event was. He relied on my judgment about this event. I TOM BEARDEN: The Buddhist Temple event brought in $100,000 for the Democratic National Committee, even though it's against the law for tax-exempt religious organizations to engage in such political activity. And according to three Buddhist nuns who testified yesterday--many of those who contributed as much as $5,000 apiece--later were reimbursed, also a violation of the law. The event was organized by John Huang, the former Democratic National Committee fund-raiser who is at the center of the investigation into campaign fund-raising abuses. It was Huang who coordinated the event with the Vice President's office and, in particular, with David Strauss.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, (R) Pennsylvania: On the face of this document it is conclusive that Mr. Huang made a call to you, was talking about a fund-raiser in Los Angeles, correct?
DAVID STRAUSS: No, Senator. I believe that this call relates to the Vice President's courtesy meeting with the Venerable Master, which occurred on the 15th of March. And this is John Huang calling me to, you know, put in a good word for that meeting and indicating to me that this would be a politically smart thing for the Vice President to do, to meet with the Venerable Master.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Well, it's a meeting with the individual from the Buddhist temple, which results in the fund-raiser on April 29th, correct?
DAVID STRAUSS: It's a meeting with the religious leader that results in the Vice President visiting his temple in Los Angeles on April 29th.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: And it says, "lead to a lot of dollars," correct?
DAVID STRAUSS: Yes, Senator, it says that.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Now, is there any other possible explanation beyond that being a fund-raiser with the reference to dollars?
DAVID STRAUSS: We--you know, we were involved in many sorts of fund-raising activities to lay the groundwork for fund-raising events that were not fund-raisers per se.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Involved in many events leading to fund-raising which were not fund-raisers per se?
DAVID STRAUSS: Yes, Senator
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Could you tell me what that meant?
DAVID STRAUSS: What that meant is--
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: What your statement means--
DAVID STRAUSS: What my statement means is that as part of the fund-raising process, there are always events and meetings with potential supporters as a way of laying the groundwork to, you know, make it possible to go back to them and get contributions.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: So the March 15th meeting was not a fund-raiser, but it laid the groundwork for the April 29th fund-raiser?
DAVID STRAUSS: Well, at the March 15th meeting with the Venerable Master, the Venerable Master invited the Vice President to visit his temple in Los Angeles. The Venerable Master was a religious leader with whom the Vice President had a relationship. He had visited his temple in Koashung in 1989.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Let me point the question. Do you dispute that on the face of this writing by you that Mr. Huang was setting the stage to raise money for the Vice President at a fund-raiser?
DAVID STRAUSS: No, I don't have any problem with that inference.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: And that, in fact, it was setting the stage for an event at the Buddhist temple on April 29th, 1996.
DAVID STRAUSS: It was setting the stage for an event at the Buddhist temple on April 29th, but there is nothing that one can infer from this that that would necessarily be a fund-raising event.
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Do you dispute that the event on April 29th at the Buddhist temple was a fund-raiser?
DAVID STRAUSS: I do
SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Fine, we'll let others draw the inference as to whether all those $5,000 checks made it a fund-raiser or not.
TOM BEARDEN: Democratic Counsel Alan Baron came to Strauss' defense by trying to draw a distinction between the Buddhist temple event and another event the Vice President attended that same evening.
ALAN BARON, Democratic Counsel: What information did the Vice President rely on to understand what an event was and the role he was expected to play at the event? What would he look to for guidance on that?
DAVID STRAUSS: On an event on a trip he would rely on what was in his briefing book, and he would rely on me.
ALAN BARON: Could we have 776, please. That says--this is the first San Jose-based event during the Clinton-Gore administration, so most of the guests are new supporters for the DNC. Estimated attendance at the reception is 100 to 125 guests. This is raising $250,000 for the DNC. Did I read that accurately?
DAVID STRAUSS: Thatís correct.
ALAN BARON: Am I not correct that if an event is a fund-raiser, typically the amount of money that you intend to raise is part of the Vice Presidentís briefing material?
DAVID STRAUSS: Thatís correct. The goal would generally be listed.
ALAN BARON: Letís turn to Exhibit 775. Now, am I correct that the description of the Hsi Lai Temple event does indicate that any money is to be raised, distinguished from the description of the San Jose event?
DAVID STRAUSS: That is correct.
ALAN BARON: You were there when the Vice President gave his speech at the Hsi Lai Temple?
DAVID STRAUSS: That is correct.
ALAN BARON: Is it fair to say that if the Vice President is at a fund-raiser that he will--and money is being raised or has been raised--he will thank the people for having contributed?
DAVID STRAUSS: Itís usually very good form to do that.
ALAN BARON: I would think so. Can you describe the speech that the Vice President gave at the Hsi Lai Temple? Did it include any request for money or any thank you for people having contributed?
DAVID STRAUSS: It did not.
TOM BEARDEN: But Sen. Specter says the Buddhist Temple event raises enough questions that he hopes Vice President Gore, himself, will consider testifying before the committee, which continues its hearings on Tuesday.