WASHINGTON - Faced with a swelling number of uncooperative witnesses, House Republicans will push for immunity from prosecution that would compel testimony on campaign fund-raising abuse, a committee chairman says.
"We're going to make a big din before it's over," Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., said in an interview Monday after releasing a new count of recalcitrant individuals.
The House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, headed by Burton, said 46 potential witnesses have asserted their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, 12 have fled the country and another dozen are foreigners who refused to be interviewed.
Burton said congressional investigators will go to California and abroad next month in search of evidence showing how illegal foreign money influenced U.S. political campaigns.
"We will push for immunity for those who we think can help move us up food chain," Burton said. "If we can get immunity for some people, we can trace sources to some of the foreign areas."
Burton has two other major obstacles besides the reluctant witnesses: the Justice Department, which has warned that immunity grants could jeopardize its criminal probe of campaign fund-raising violations; and Democrats on Burton's committee.
Burton needs Democratic help to obtain a two-thirds committee majority to force witness testimony by granting limited immunity from prosecution. The committee has 24 Republicans, 19 Democrats and an independent who normally votes with the Democrats. Democrats are unlikely to help, since they've accused Burton of conducting a partisan investigation.
Committee investigators are especially interested in immunity for Nora and Gene Lum, operators of an Oklahoma natural gas pipeline company. They were each sentenced to 10 months in prison and fined $30,000 in September for using fake donors to conceal their $50,000 in illegal contributions.
Burton has revealed the Lums were prepared to testify - in exchange for immunity - that the Clinton campaign wrote a letter endorsing the candidacy of the leader of an Asian country in 1992 in exchange for a $50,000 contribution - possibly foreign money - to a Democrat-affiliated group the Lums had formed. The country was not named.
The Lums will also disclose financial help offered by the Riady family of Indonesia, Burton said.
Committee investigators, speaking only on condition of anonymity, said that without an immunity grant, they've been unable to take advantage of the Lums' offer.
The panel is especially interested, the investigators said, in an organization established by the Lums in 1992 - the Asian Pacific Advisory Council.
The investigators found that much of the money raised for the organization, mostly from small donors, went to a company owned by the Lums.
According to the investigators, the council's documents refer to the organization as being affiliated with the Democratic National Committee. No record could be found that donations to the group were publicly reported, as required for contributions to political parties and their affiliate organizations.
Others who refused cooperation, according to the committee:
By The Associated Press
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