05/20/98- Updated 11:04 AM ET|
Gingrich plans probe of China donations
WASHINGTON - House Speaker Newt Gingrich is moving to establish a special committee to investigate high-technology exports to China and the broader issue of whether the Chinese government sought to buy influence.
The White House Wednesday voiced skepticism about the development, but said it would work with Congress regardless of which committee investigates."That's their business, not ours," said White House spokesman Mike McCurry.
Gingrich predicted House Democrats would overcome their initial resistance and go along.
"I mean, are they going to boycott it?" Gingrich said Tuesday.
Democrats Wednesday were pondering the new panel.
Gingrich said the investigation now has moved beyond political fund raising into areas affecting national security. The GOP-led House will vote early next month on creating the panel. Gingrich predicted it would pass.
At the White House, McCurry said, "there's an extensive congressional inquiry already under way" of the sale of satellite technology to China by U.S. aerospace companies. "We are fully cooperating with that."
"The House of Representatives will have to decide whether they want to have an additional committee to inquire into it," McCurry added. "But we'll cooperate with any inquiry that gets at the truth."
McCurry also said that Clinton had no plans to cancel or rescheduled his planned trip to China next month, as some congressional Republicans have suggested.
The inquiry, which Gingrich said would be modeled on the Senate Watergate Committee of 1973 headed by the late Sen. Sam Ervin, D-N.C., would supersede present overlapping investigations by as many as four different House panels.
Democrats have asserted that the tactics of the chairman of one of those panels, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., were heavy handed.
To chair the new panel, Gingrich designated Rep. Chris Cox, R-Calif., chairman of the House GOP Policy Committee and a former deputy counsel in the Reagan White House.
Cox, in an interview, said his primary focus would be national security - and might require that many of the sessions be conducted behind closed doors because of classified material.
"The overriding reason for a select committee is that the national security issues are of such grave importance, getting to these things as quickly as possible requires the ability to cut across the jurisdiction of several standing committees," Cox said.
He pledged to lead an impartial investigation.
In a related move, the House, on a 402-0 vote Tuesday night, went on record as favoring immunity from prosecution for four witnesses who are associates of Johnny Chung, the California businessman and Democratic Party fund-raiser who is at the center of investigations into fund-raising abuses by the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign.
The stepped up inquiry followed revelations that Chung told Justice Department investigators he received $300,000 from a Chinese Army officer and aerospace official, passed $110,000 to the party and kept the rest for himself. The Chinese government denied Chung's allegation Tuesday.
The Democrats returned Chung's $366,000 in total contributions amid questions over where the money originated.
"The revelations over the past five days have raised eyebrows here in Congress whether our national security has been violated," said Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who sponsored the resolution. "These witnesses all have information that directly relates to some of those dealings."
Democratic leader Dick Gephardt, expected to meet with Gingrich Wednesday to discuss the proposed new committee, expressed initial opposition.
But Gephardt's spokeswoman, Laura Nichols, said the Missouri Democrat wanted to "discuss what the speaker has in mind in terms of scope, in terms of what the committee looks like."
She said Gephardt was concerned about "circumventing the committee process and the cost that's likely to be involved."
Gingrich's proposed panel would have eight members - five Republicans and three Democrats.
The speaker said it would investigate allegations that a U.S. aerospace company, Loral Space and Communications, received favorable treatment from the Clinton administration on high-technology exports to China. The firm's chief executive officer, Bernard Schwartz, was the Democratic Party's largest single donor for the 1996 election.
After a Chinese missile with a Loral satellite on it exploded in 1996, Loral technicians gave information to the Chinese that Republicans suggested helped China more accurately aim its long-range missiles.
Loral has denied allegations of wrongdoing. The Justice Department is investigating.
Gingrich said the panel also would probe the larger issue of whether the Chinese military sought to influence U.S. policy-makers and whether national security had been compromised.
At the State Department, spokesman James Rubin defended anew the decision to allow China to launch U.S. commercial satellites - and the licensing system involved.
"In no circumstance do we believe that the policy of allowing China to launch American satellites is ipso facto providing China technology that will enhance their capabilities," Rubin said.
By The Associated Press
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