Congressional Republicans, citing reports that the Democratic campaign fund-raising controversy may be spreading to include foreign espionage, are vastly increasing the scope of their budding investigations.
Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, said Sunday that his inquiry was “going to look into every area where there is a possibility of illegal activity as far as influence-peddling, illegal contributions, possible involvement of White House personnel and things like that.”
Speaking on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press,” Burton said he signed 20 subpoenas Saturday night for potentially balky witnesses, bringing the total to 25, and has requested documents from 60 individuals. He said his committee or its staff will question 500 people in preparation for hearings in April or May.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said reports of alleged interest by the Chinese government in Democratic campaign funding raise the “implication . . . that at least there was an attempt to suborn the foreign policy of the United States.”
“Allegations have been made about Cuba, Indonesia, even Guam, and they continue, and this is the first time since we reformed campaign financing 23 years ago that there’s been allegations of foreign involvement in American political campaigns,” McCain said on ABC-TV’s “This Week.”
White House Special Counsel Lanny Davis, the president’s official spokesman on the complex issue, counterattacked aggressively.
“There’s no policy affected by contributions to this president,” he said. “There’s no governmental action affected by contributions to this president. The president has made that very clear, and that’s what the American people really want to know, and that’s the fact.”
A key figure in the investigation is John Huang, a former deputy assistant Commerce secretary and later a fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee. The DNC returned more than $1.2 million in contributions raised by Huang as improper or questionable.
Huang had a top-secret security clearance in his government role, but that status remained in effect during his entire tenure as a DNC fund-raiser.
He “may very well have given information that he shouldn’t have to the Chinese [government] and others,” Burton said.
The Washington Post reported last week that evidence gathered by U.S. intelligence agencies indicates that the Chinese Embassy in Washington was interested in providing funds to the Democratic Party, an act that would be illegal under U.S. law. There is no evidence that the Chinese government actually made any contributions, and the embassy denounced the report as “sheer fabrication.”
Burton said his committee’s mission is growing with each new allegation. “The investigation, unfortunately . . . is going to be much broader than I would like,” he said on “Meet the Press.”
“We thought initially we were going to just have to interview or depose just a few people,” he said. “We now have over 500 people that we may have to talk to.”
Burton said he was advising his “Democrat counterparts of everything we’re doing so that there’s an atmosphere of fairness.”
In the Senate, the Governmental Affairs Committee has issued 52 subpoenas and proposed a budget of $6.5 million for its work.
An influential committee member, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), denounced Democrats for threatening to filibuster to block approval of the committee’s budget. “We are surprised and disappointed that the Democrats want to frustrate and resist the getting of facts by this committee,” Cochran said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Democrats “can’t avoid the truth coming out,” Cochran said, noting that parallel investigations were likely to be opened by the Foreign Relations Committee and the Commerce Committee, especially in light of the possible involvement of a foreign government.
If the allegation of Chinese government interest in helping fund the Democratic campaign is true, “I think that what was a serious problem just became a lot more serious,” said Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.).
“It would, however, surprise me if the Chinese government made a decision to funnel money into American politics and just chose one campaign and one political party and one target,” he said on “This Week.”
Any financial contribution “would be such an outrageous act, and I think counterproductive to their own purposes, but if they did it, we need to find out about it, and there needs to be the harshest kind of penalty,” he said.
Defending the administration, Davis insisted that none of the money given to the Democrats resulted in favors by Clinton or his administration for any of the donors.
“There is no evidence, not a shred of evidence, that any money, any contributor ever influenced his judgment on what’s in the best interests of the American people,” Davis said on “Meet the Press.” He denied any improprieties in connection with reports of contributions of almost $900,000 to Democratic Party campaigns from residents of Guam, a Pacific island possession of the United States with 140,000 people.
The administration changed its policy to favor more autonomy by Guam, whose residents are U.S. citizens, over immigration issues, according to a story in the Washington Post on Sunday. Increased immigration to Guam could provide more workers to develop local business.
Davis said the administration’s view on Guam policy was “evolving and, in fact, had been determined way before contributions had been contributed.”
While the campaign-funding controversy rages, Davis said, the president still favors campaign finance reform but insists that Republicans join in a legislative effort to reduce the power of money in politics.
The president, he said on “Fox News Sunday,” is “not in favor of unilateral disarmament.”