Washington Bulletin

Washington Bulletin

The Wrong Stuff
John Glenn turned in a performance this morning that would lead a casual observer to conclude the former astronaut just returned from that land rover cruising around Mars. In the opening round of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's Asiagate hearings, Glenn acted as though Chairman Fred Thompson had just gaveled into session hearings into the pandemic problem of Republican fundraising abuses and how to try to prevent them. If there were still any doubt Sen. Glenn is as tightly scripted by the White House as Ann Lewis, his clichéd and dishonest remarks today should have ended it.

—Foreign money? "We do know that some foreign money came into the Republican Party," Glenn said, "and I shall explain that in more detail later. Did it happen in Democratic fundraising circles as well?"

—The misuse of tax exempt and non-profit organizations? "There are numerous and credible allegations," went his written statement, "that such organizations were illegally employed to help Republican candidates in 1996. Did the Democrats receive similar help?"

—Contributions given in someone else's name? "The Vice Chairman of Bob Dole's campaign was fined $1.6 million and was put under house arrest for this practice. This committee will also investigate similar allegations regarding a Democratic fundraising event at a Buddhist temple in California. Are there other cases?"

The word repeated ad nauseam in Glenn's opening remarks is "bi-partisan." It's clear the Democrats consider it a magic incantation that will take all the sting out of the scandal allegations. "The problem of political money is a bi-partisan problem, and it requires bi-partisan remedies. And if we do not get bi-partisan support. . . ," etc. Glenn, turning to another Democratic chestnut, also wants the success of the hearing to be measured by how well they push new regulations on the political system: "[E]ven if it is not explicitly stated in the Senate Resolution that launched this investigation, the measure of success for this investigation will be whether it produces Congressional action for campaign-finance reform."

The measure of success, of course, will really be measured in TV attention. Thompson seemed to get off to an OK start in that respect today with preliminary remarks that he said—in an obvious attempt at some drama—it had just become possible for him to make: "The Committee believes that high-level Chinese government officials crafted a plan to increase China's influence over the U.S. political process. The Committee has identified specific steps taken in furtherance of the plan. Implementation of the plan has been handled by Chinese government officials, and individuals enlisted to assist in the effort. Actives in furtherance of the plan have occurred both inside and outside the United States. Our investigation suggests the plan continues today."

Thompson delivered these sober remarks in his measured, deep Southern tones that served as a reminder of why the Senator has been so heavily hyped: he has the kind of presence other politicians would trade their National Airport parking spots for. Today Thompson's cause was also helped inadvertently by Glenn, who revealed that John Huang would be willing to testify before the committee without immunity for espionage, perjury, and other serious charges—another piece of breaking news. (Glenn pointed out that some might be concerned about "why Mr. Huang would be motivated to come forward on the basis that I have described." Then the Senator assured the committee that his understanding is that Huang is making the offer only in keeping with the "guiding principle in his life," namely "promot[ing] the interests of the Asian-American community.")

Thompson still has formidable obstacles. TV attention is going to be hard to get and to hold. And Glenn will try his hardest to make the hearings as much as possible about former RNC Chairman Haley Barbour and the National Policy Forum. Glenn said the RNC–NPF affair is the only aspect of the scandal "where the head of a national political party knowingly and successfully solicited foreign money, infused it into the election process, and intentionally tried to cover his footprints." As if there is any doubt Glenn will use any tool at his disposal to blunt the effect of the hearings, he even referred to McCarthyism today: "This committee has a very unhappy history in that respect . . . during the '50s." If Glenn has his way, the committee will have a very unhappy history during the 1990s too—derailed and distracted from the most far-reaching White House scandal since Watergate.

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Updated By:
Rich Lowry - National Political Reporter
Ramesh Ponnuru - National Reporter

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