China linked to US funds scandal

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The Independent Online
Washington's political fund- raising scandal acquired a lurid new dimension yesterday with revelations that the FBI warned several members of Congress they were targets of an illegal $2m (pounds 1.25m) effort by the Chinese government to buy votes and influence.

According to the Washington Post, six Congressional figures were involved, including California's Democratic Senator, Dianne Feinstein. ABC television reported that 30 were "potential targets".

Even before these allegations, the Democratic elder statesman Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York was speaking of "an attack on our system from Asia, mainland China and perhaps Taiwan. The system was attacked and some of it was penetrated".

The re-emergence of the "China connection" turns the focus back to the gargantuan fund-raising efforts of the 1996 Clinton campaign by a clutch of Chinese-Americans, notably the former Commerce Department official John Huang and two businessmen, Johnny Chung and Charles Lin Trie.

All three, the Post said, were being investigated by the FBI as conduits for the Chinese money, laundered to avoid a breach of US laws barring campaign contributions from foreign individuals and governments.

The episode can only embarrass President Bill Clinton, tarnishing the lustre of last week's press conference when he easily fended off questions over fund-raising, including acceptance on the premises by a senior aide of a $50,000 cheque from Mr Chung.

Mr Clinton insisted no laws had been broken, and that Democratic fund- raising was a matter of self-defence against the Republican "juggernaut".The fact remains that Messrs Huang, Trie and Chung visited the White House more than 150 times, which adds to pressure for a special counsel to probe the whole business. It is now a question less of if than when Janet Reno, the Attorney General, makes that appointment.

Democrats have grudgingly bowed to the Republican majority on Capitol Hill for Senate hearings on the issue, though not on the practice of large "soft money" donations by corporations and party fat cats, which is widely considered the true poison of the system.

The outcome of the furore is unpredictable. Mr Clinton's high poll ratings suggest the country is not moved. The frenzy over fund-raising may prove to be sound and fury, signifying ultimately very little.