07/10/97 - 01:01 AM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Inside the hearings

TUESDAY'S HIGHLIGHTS: Opening statements by the 16-member committee. Chairman Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., accused China of plotting to influence last year's elections. Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, revealed that John Huang, a key figure in the scandal, has agreed to testify in exchange for limited immunity.

EXPECTED WEDNESDAY: Former Democratic National Committee (DNC) finance director Richard Sullivan, who is to detail how John Huang was hired by the DNC. Hearings begin at 9 a.m.

TELEVISION COVERAGE(all times ET):

C-SPAN: Live coverage Wednesday 9-10 a.m. Live coverage Thursday will be pre-empted for House and Senate action. At 10 p.m. each evening, C-SPAN will run videotape of the full hearings.

CNN: Live coverage of witness Richard Sullivan's testimony beginning at 9 a.m. Live updates throughout the day.

OTHER NETWORKS: Some live coverage, but generally will air highlights on news programs.


REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK BY JILL LAWRENCE

FULL CIRCLE: The two men leading the Senate investigation into 1996 campaign fund-raising, Republican Fred Thompson of Tennessee and Democrat John Glenn of Ohio, are in some ways coming full circle.

Seven years ago, in the same marbled chamber, Glenn was being judged rather than doing the judging. The former astronaut was one of the Keating Five - senators accused of seeking favors for a campaign donor, S&L owner Charles Keating. Glenn eventually was cleared of all charges except poor judgment for helping Keating meet with House Speaker Jim Wright, but the episode was traumatic.

''Cash cheapens the work that we do,'' Glenn said Tuesday, urging wholesale reform of campaign fund-raising.

He has had other firsthand experience with the money chase he condemns. He is still trying to pay off a $3.1 million debt from a forgettable 1984 presidential campaign.

As Thompson exhorted his colleagues to eschew partisan bickering, to be fair and honest and ''get the facts in a professional manner,'' it was hard to avoid recalling his first moment in the national spotlight: as the Republican counsel in the Senate's 1973 Watergate hearings.

But there's at least one big difference, according to Senate historian Donald Ritchie: Someone like Thompson would never have led the Watergate investigation.

The majority leader back then, Democrat Mike Mansfield, insisted that no Democrat on the panel have an eye on the presidency, Ritchie says. So the chairman was North Carolina Democrat Sam Ervin, 74, presumably not inclined to weaken Richard Nixon in order to promote himself. And Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., assumed to have White House ambitions, wasn't even picked for the committee, even though he was the one who introduced the resolution to investigate Watergate.

This situation is especially delicate. The Thompson panel is investigating not just a Democratic administration but one whose vice president, Tennessean Al Gore, is a strong favorite to win his party's nomination in 2000.

Thompson is a rising GOP star weighing the same race. At least one other Republican committee member, Don Nickles of Oklahoma, is a possible 2000 candidate. ''There's a burden on them'' to rise above the perception that they are interested in political gain, Ritchie says.

UNMAKING REPUTATIONS: Not every investigation makes a reputation. Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy's hunt for communists and his political career ended after televised hearings in 1954, when he accused the Army of harboring subversives. ''He was vicious,'' Ritchie says. Public opinion turned against him and he was censured by the Senate.

Committees can look bad, too. Just think of the Senate Judiciary Committee interrogating Anita Hill, or Iran-contra investigators confronted by Oliver North in his Marine uniform. Ritchie recalls the time in 1948 that Howard Hughes made mincemeat of a committee trying to investigate whether he had bought defense contracts. Hughes was witty and aggressive; the committee was overbearing; and the chairman was distracted by a terrible case of poison ivy on his feet. ''The investigation collapsed,'' Ritchie says.

MEASURING SUCCESS: Ritchie has three standards for a successful congressional investigation:

By those standards, the most successful was a 1930s probe of Wall Street after the 1929 crash. Bankers disclosed their mishandling of money and dumping of bad stocks on customers. Disgusted lawmakers established the Securities and Exchange Commission and passed the Glass-Steagall Act erecting a wall between banks and the stock market.

Watergate also led to laws, from the War Powers Act limiting presidential authority to civil liberties protections meant to limit intrusions such as wiretapping.

Watergate also brought campaign finance laws meant to keep individuals and special interests from buying influence with big bucks. But the bucks keep flowing, bringing Congress full circle to today's investigation.


HEARING EXCERPTS:

Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn. (chairman): ''The American people see their leaders go to greater and greater extremes to raise unprecedented amounts of money to fund their political campaigns. Power is at stake, and the ends justify the means. And I believe that this thirst for increasing amounts of political money and what people are willing to do to get it lie at the heart of this investigation.''

Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio (ranking Democrat): ''In exposing this system it is not so much that we expect to surprise the American people. Unfortunately sleazy fund-raising practices are just what the American people have come to expect.''

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine: ''The television ad race has become the political counterpart of the nuclear arms race, characterized by the same insecure feeling that one can never have enough.''

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii: ''We are not here to conduct a witch hunt. We must ignore the temptations to assign guilt by association, especially ethnic association. . . . Asian-Pacific Americans should not be held to a higher standard than other citizens.''

Compiled from staff and wire reports



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