Asiagate, Week IV: Watch Out For That Trie!
At Sen. Thompson's Asiagate hearings money laundering is becoming almost ho-hum. Two weeks ago, when the committee produced direct evidence of a John Huang contribution being reimbursed from Jakarta, it was front-page news. We'll see what play similar direct evidence of money laundering by the on-the-lam Asiagate figure Charlie Trie gets in Wednesday's papers, as what should be shocking begins to fade into the routine.
A FBI detailee named Jerry Campane told the committee tuesday morning how Trie operated several shell corporations that never made money, but were supported by Trie business partner/sugar daddy Ng Lap Seng (a.k.a. "Mr. Wu") who wired some $900,000 to Trie to keep him afloat. That money was shifted between Trie's accounts in a series of mad-cap transactions that even Trie's accountant couldn't follow (he eventually quit in frustration). But what's clear is that some of it made it into the Democratic coffers, as Trie contributed some $220,000 at the same time his business ventures were flat on their backs.
In some cases, the connection between Trie's contributions and wire transfers from the Chinese government-owned Bank of China is direct and irrefutable. In October 1994 the day after Trie received a $100,000 transfer from the Bank of China-Macau Branch into a Little Rock account with $472 in it, Trie contributed $15,000 to the DNC. Several other transactions had roughly the same pedigree. Asked by Sen. Bob Smith (R., N.J.) if Trie was laundering money, Campane replied: "It's what we call in the business a slam dunk, Senator."
The outstanding question is what the motives behind these transactions were. Campane testified that Trie, the former Little Rock restaurateur, was constantly on the make and anxious to try to cash in on his connection to Clinton, whom he knew from Arkansas. But was Trie an agent of influence, witting or unwitting? Much of the answer to that question depends on Wu, the shadowy source of Trie's funds.
Was Wu—a Macau-based real estate mogul—just trying to increase his own prestige in Asia by forging contacts with the Clinton White House through Trie, or was he advancing a Chinese government plan to influence U.S. elections? Republicans pointed out that Wu sits on the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Caton, a Chinese government entity. And that he also has extensive business contacts with Chinese government officials. But as the Democrats were quick to point out, this in and of itself proves nothing.
That is what the Democratic defense was mostly reduced to today, although they did of course trot out campaign-finance reform. Sen. Susan Collins quoted Johnny Chung's statement that the White House is like a subway turnstile into which you pour coins to gain access, and added that they had to be "gold coins." Sen. Joe Lieberman (D., Conn.) then picked up the analogy and said the gold coins were soft money, and "we've got to make those gold coins illegal." Sen. Glenn eagerly agreed ("the whole system stinks"), and so did Thompson: "[This] may all boil down to the insatiable desire for money and what people are willing to do to get it."
The White House, of course, fervently hopes so (and the Chinese government probably does too). Meanwhile, it's possible that Trie was being directed to make his contributions—including an unseemly $400,000 contribution to the Clinton defense fund stuffed into envelopes—by White House operator Mark Middleton. The committee will likely hear more about that later this week. And there will continue to be a steady diet of embarrassments for the White House the rest of the week.
Tuesday afternoon the committee heard from two Chinese-speaking women who were a conduit for Trie contributions to the DNC. (If you think hearing from low-level witnesses who know little or nothing is boring, just try to listen to low-level witnesses who know little or nothing testify through a translator.) The two women testified that they were told the contributions were a way for Wu, who wanted to meet the President, to "buy a ticket" into the White House. Which pretty much sums it up: one "Most Ethical Administration in History" for sale—all bidders welcome.
Russell Baker, Over-Heated
Put this one in the you-have-to-see-it-to-believe it category: in his Tuesday column in the New York Times Russell Baker writes that the child tax credit "evokes a macabre memory of Nazi Germany, which used government incentives to raise the birth rate." Gee, whiz. How about Clinton's college credits? Reminiscent of the Soviet Union's free education?
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