As Republicans on the Thompson committee grilled National Security Advisor Sandy Berger about his role in letting shady foreign contributors gain access to the White House, the China connection to the fundraising scandal suddenly re-merged yesterday. After hearing from Berger, the committee adjourned to get a private briefing from Attorney General Janet Reno and the directors of the FBI and CIA about evidence that a California businessman named Ted Sioeng acted as an agent of the Chinese plan to influence U.S. elections, according to a report in this morning's Washington Post. Thompson had been criticized by Democrats for raising the Chinese plan in his opening statement at the inception of the hearings in July, and lately there has been talk in the press of Thompson beating a "retreat" from the China allegations. Today's news is something of a vindication of Thompson, but it still seems the China angle is so sensitive and involves so much digging overseas that it can only effectively be conducted by the intelligence agencies in private (the New York Times, which has been tough on the administration scandals, makes a plea today for as much openness as possible).
Also yesterday, the committee heard from Berger, the highest-level administration official to testify so far. Berger explained how there wasn't any process to screen foreigners who got access to Administration officials, so the vetting process was punted to the DNC which opened up the gates to everyone with ready cash. Committee Republicans combed through examples where the DNC seemed to be driving meetings between shady characters and administration officials, including one between Berger himself and Hong Kong businessman Eric Hotung [click here]. In addition, Thompson grilled Berger about his participation in weekly political strategy meetings during the 1996 campaign. Berger says he was at the meetings to ensure only that the campaign didn't distort the president's foreign policy record (the campaign, of course, was noted for the scrupulous accuracy of its 1996 ads). On the whole, not a bad week for the committee, which seems to have set its sights entirely on getting an independent counsel appointed. Up next week: the White House coffees. Sugar or cream?
The Weld Nomination: Still Dead
Richard Lugar looked like he had swallowed a couple of prunes as Jesse Helms lectured a packed hearing room about Senate procedure this morning. Lugar had used an obscure rule to force the meeting of the Foreign Relations Committee over the Weld nomination, but chairman Helms had control over the agenda of the meeting. Helms described 154 examples over the last ten years of nominees not getting hearings from Senate committees and even blow-up big lists of the nominations for display at the front of the hearing room. Helms took digs at Lugar for working with the Democrats to force the meeting and also rapped the "distinguished senator from Indiana" for working to "challenge my authority as a Senate committee chairman and by implication challenging the authority of all other committee chairmen." Helms also had choice words for the press: "You guys in the media, I love you all, but you ought to deal in facts, not speculation." A vintage Jesse Helms performance. Needless to say, Weld is not headed South of the Border anytime soon.
For a selection of recent Washington Bulletins click here
Rich Lowry - National Political Reporter
Ramesh Ponnuru - National Reporter
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