07/08/97 - 01:27 PM ET - Click reload often for latest version

Tangled-tale of fund-raising begins

WASHINGTON - Sen. Fred Thompson wants to tell a story about greed, power and ethical failures.

The narrative begins to unfold when the Tennessee Republican convenes the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's inquiry into fund-raising abuses during the 1996 campaign.

Committee members make opening remarks today. The first witnesses appear Wednesday.

Few of the main characters are on stage this week. Key Democratic fund-raiser John Huang won't talk without immunity from prosecution. Fund-raiser Charlie Trie and Indonesian businessman James Riady, a donor with links to Huang and to China, are in Asia.

So Thompson has summoned a cast of White House aides, Democratic National Committee (DNC) officials and employees of Lippo Group's California bank to tell the tale for him. Not all of them will be called to testify. How much they will say is unknown. But here's where they fit in and what they know:

From the White House

(AP)Harold Ickes: Ickes probably knows more about political decision-making in the White House during the 1996 campaign than anyone. In his role as deputy White House chief of staff, Ickes coordinated the campaign and oversaw the fund-raising operation. In February 1996, he gave Clinton the names of 10 major corporate donors to phone. He was at every meeting on campaign strategy and at Clinton's side every day.

And then, after the victory that he helped orchestrate, Ickes was let go.

Ickes infuriated the White House in February when he turned over documents without waiting for them to be subpoenaed by congressional investigators. Those papers included Clinton's hand-written notation that overnight visits by donors should begin "right away." That was the first indication of Clinton's willing involvement in the use of the White House to woo contributors.

Maggie Williams: On March 9, 1995, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's chief of staff accepted a $50,000 check for the DNC at the White House. It's "unlawful for any person to solicit or receive any contribution" in "any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties."

The check was from Johnny Chung, a Taiwanese-American entrepreneur from Torrance, Calif. He visited the White House 51 times, bringing along a parade of Chinese business executives. A National Security Council memo called him "a hustler" out to impress Chinese friends with White House ties.

Chung and his company gave $366,000 to Democrats. The money, including the check he gave to Williams, was returned because the DNC could not verify its source.

(AP)Bruce Lindsey: One of Clinton's closest friends and confidants, he gave a deposition under oath to Senate investigators last week.

His potential to provide sit-up-and-take notice testimony about what happened inside the White House is incalculable. In almost every instance of possible White House involvement in potential fund-raising improprieties, his name has surfaced as an intimate player.

For example, Lindsey attended a 20-minute meeting in the Oval Office on Sept. 13, 1995, where Clinton heard a request from Huang to leave his Commerce Department job and move to the DNC. Also at that meeting was James Riady, Huang's former employer at the Lippo Group and an acquaintance of Clinton in Little Rock. Lindsey later referred Huang's request to Ickes, who recommended Huang to the DNC.

Investigators cite that meeting as a confluence of the potential problems contained in the fund-raising imbroglio: Huang's ties to a foreign business, Commerce Department and the DNC underscores the seepage among the three areas. Senate investigators suspect that Huang may have conveyed economic secrets to the Lippo Group, the Indonesian conglomerate headed by Riady.

Lindsey is a staunch defender of Clinton, who has said that unintentional mistakes were made.

From the DNC

Richard Sullivan: The former national finance director for Democrats, Sullivan sounded early warnings about Huang's fund-raising among foreigners who couldn't legally donate. A longtime Democratic operative and veteran fund-raiser, Sullivan is considered by associates as a straight shooter. He often clashed with other ranking DNC officials over fund-raising policy.

Because of his hands-on, day-to-day involvement in all aspects of DNC fund raising, Sullivan may know more about who-did-what-when than anyone else in the party.

Sullivan is a reluctant witness, but White House officials believe his testimony could be damaging.

Don Fowler: This former DNC co-chairman is an amiable activist from South Carolina who generally enjoys the give and take of politics. But his experience with the fund-raising furor - in which many in the White House and Capitol Hill have pointed accusatory fingers at him - has left him feeling under siege.

Fowler was in the center of several elements of the campaign-funding scandal: He helped arrange White House coffees where big political givers with agendas could meet Clinton and other important federal officials.

Fowler's potential testimony also gives the White House jitters. He has already said the DNC "routinely solicited" campaign donations from people after they attended coffees with Clinton, something the White House initially did not admit.

Marvin Rosen: A Miami lawyer who became DNC national finance chairman, he approved the individuals who attended intimate fund-raising dinners with Clinton, as well as some of those who attended coffees. He has said he played only a small role in supervising Huang.

Nonetheless, senators are certain to question what Rosen knew about Huang's fund-raising activities.

Joseph Sandler: He's been general counsel for the DNC since 1993. He was in charge of reviewing donations to determine which were legal. He was also responsible for handling document requests from Congress.

Sandler also knows about the DNC's decision to direct some contributions made to the national organization to state Democratic organizations. That plan was devised as a way to keep tapping wealthy contributors for more money, but in a framework that used a loophole in fund-raising laws that set limits on donations.

Senate investigators believe he could be a hostile witness.

From Lippo

James Per Lee: The president of Lippo Bank of California, he's the American link to the Lippo Group. Huang was once a Lippo Bank officer and director.

Two months ago, Per Lee told USA TODAY, "The bank is just a bank. The bank is not involved in the stuff I read about in newspapers."

The wild card

Yogesh Gandhi: This mysterious DNC donor can describe how cash served as a gateway to Clinton.

A California businessman who says he is a descendant of the Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi, he told the White House last year that he wanted to give the president a peace award that included $100,000.

White House officials declined after the FBI told them that he was a fraud. But Yogesh Gandhi did meet Clinton on May 13, 1996, at a Washington hotel. He gave the DNC $325,000 that was later returned.

The next act

The witnesses subpoenaed to appear next week include Buddhist nuns who donated money that came from someone else. Also on the playbill: Commerce Department officials who questioned Huang's qualifications for the job and a CIA official who gave Huang classified briefings.

By Judy Keen and Tom Squitieri, USA TODAY

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