07/10/97 - 12:56 AM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Sullivan says Huang unusual hire

WASHINGTON - Richard Sullivan didn't quite know what to make of John Huang, his new fund-raiser.

Huang's hiring in 1995 was definitely unusual, Sullivan told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on Wednesday. Sullivan was then the finance director of the Democratic National Committee.

When Huang came to the DNC in December 1995, he was 50, far older than the 20-somethings who usually joined the DNC. He had no professional fund-raising experience. Most new hires had at least raised money for congressional campaigns. And Huang was making $120,000 a year at the Commerce Department yet he was willing to take half that at the DNC.

But Huang had powerful, insistent patrons who really wanted him to get the job. One of them was the president of the United States.

So Huang became the third-ranking fund-raiser at the DNC. Sullivan was so worried about Huang's inexperience that he asked DNC counsel Joseph Sandler to give the new hire special training on what donations are legal.

Whether Huang ever got that training is one of the unresolved issues of the controversial saga that began with his arrival at the DNC.

But the events that led to his hiring are crucial elements of the controversy. Huang is at the center of the campaign fund-raising scandal. Half the $3.4 million he raised for the DNC will be returned because it probably came from foreign sources. And because of his links to a company doing business with the Chinese, he has been accused of economic espionage. Huang has denied those charges, but is refusing to testify without partial immunity from prosecution.

Administration officials and individuals linked to the Lippo Group, for which Huang once worked, lobbied the DNC for four months to hire Huang.

In all, DNC officials were urged nine times to hire Huang, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Wednesday. The most significant were:

In August 1995, Joseph Giroir met with Don Fowler, then the co-chairman of the DNC, to recommend that Huang be brought to the DNC. Giroir is a former law partner of Hillary Clinton's who ran the Arkansas Industrial Development Corp., which had dealings with Lippo.

In September 1995, Mark Middleton recommended Huang to Sullivan. Middleton raised money for President Clinton's 1992 campaign and became a White House aide.

In a suite in Washington's Four Seasons Hotel on Sept. 13, 1995, Lippo head James Riady met with Fowler. Also in the room were Sullivan, Giroir and Huang. Later that day, Riady and Huang met with Clinton.

On Sept. 15, Bruce Lindsey met with Huang in the White House about a DNC job. Lindsey is a deputy White House counsel and Clinton confidant.

On Oct. 2, Huang met with deputy White House chief of staff Harold Ickes. Ickes phoned DNC finance chairman Marvin Rosen twice.

On Nov. 8, Clinton called Rosen, Sullivan's boss.

Clinton said Wednesday that he told someone at the DNC that Huang wanted to work there. "I don't remember who I said that to," he said. "I wish I could tell you more. Most people don't volunteer to help you raise money in this world."

Sullivan testified that after the 1996 election, Rosen told him that Clinton had wanted Huang at the DNC. "He mentioned that at some point, in passing, that the president had asked him if he had heard that John was interested in coming to the DNC," Sullivan said.

Sullivan and Rosen met with Huang on Nov. 13.

Sullivan said he was unaware of most of those contacts, but he agreed that level of interest in filling a DNC job was unprecedented. Huang, he said, was "extremely interested in working both politically and in fund-raising with the Asian-American community."

Investigators want to know if Lippo, which has strong links to China, wanted Huang in that position. Huang had formerly worked for Lippo. And they want to know why Clinton and other administration officials went to such lengths to ensure that Huang was hired.

Sullivan said he warned Huang about obeying election laws and insisted he be instructed not to accept foreign money. "I was concerned that John knew the rule," he said.

Ickes, Lindsey, Rosen and Sandler testify this month.

By Judy Keen and Judi Hasson, USA TODAY