Congressional investigators said Monday that they had mixed up two similar Asian names and mistakenly subpoenaed bank records from the wrong person while looking into alleged fund-raising abuses by the White House and Democratic Party.
In pursuing information concerning Chi Ruan Wang, a California donor whose $5,000 contribution was returned by the Democratic National Committee, investigators mistakenly targeted Chi Wang, a China expert affiliated with the Library of Congress and Georgetown University, officials said.
The 65-year-old professor, who also donated to the Democrats, said that he did not know until informed by a reporter that investigators of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee had sent subpoenas to two banks seeking his and his wife's personal account information.
"I just participated in the American political process," said Chi Wang. "If I knew it was going to be this messy I wouldn't have participated. I didn't do anything wrong. Why are they looking at my records?"
Actually, Democrats on the committee learned of the error in time, and the April 3 subpoena was withdrawn before the banks, Chevy Chase Bank and National Capital Bank of Washington, produced Chi Wang's accounts.
In issuing the subpoena to Chi Wang's banks, investigators were seeking information about Chi Ruan Wang, who lives at the Buddhist temple in Hacienda Heights where Vice President Al Gore attended a controversial fund-raiser last year.
The Democrats returned Chi Ruan Wang's $5,000 contribution earlier this month after determining that he did not actually make the donation. The handwriting on Chi Ruan Wang's check was almost identical, the Democrats found, to that on several other checks collected at the April 1996 fund-raiser.
Chi Wang also has contributed to the DNC, but none of his $52,000 has been returned. Chi Wang said that he was persuaded to contribute by former DNC fund-raiser John Huang, who is at the center of the controversy, to help increase the voice of Asian Americans in politics. In the last election cycle, records show, Chi Wang also gave $1,000 each to the presidential campaigns of President Clinton and Bob Dole.
Chi Wang said that his donations were completely legitimate.
"This is unbelievable," he said of the subpoenas. "I've never even had a speeding ticket. I've never hurt a fly. I've never been to the White House--not even as a tourist."
GOP investigator David Bossie acknowledged that staff members had confused the two names when they prepared the subpoena but he stopped short of saying that the committee had erred.
"Apparently there are two gentlemen by the same name," Bossie said. "Whether [Chi Wang] deserves a subpoena or not, we haven't decided. We've put it on hold and will move on it in the next day or so. If you make a mistake, and we're not sure we made one, you want to look into it."
However, a letter sent to the banks by the committee's chief counsel, John P. Rowley III, said that the subpoenas were misdirected. "This letter serves as formal notice of withdrawal of the subpoena," Rowley wrote.
Democrats said that the whole episode shows the cavalier attitude of those leading the House inquiry.
"If they've made a mistake, they should admit it and apologize," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), the ranking Democrat on the investigative committee. "The only reason they suspect him is because he has an Asian surname. That should be offensive to all Americans."
Democratic staff members uncovered the error while examining the more than 100 requests for documents that committee Chairman Dan Burton (R-Ill.) has sent out in recent months in connection with the House fund-raising inquiry.
For his part, Chi Wang appeared confused by the whole matter.
"I have no idea why they have my name," Chi Wang said. "Maybe somebody has a similar name. Wang is a very common name. There are hundreds of thousands of people with that name."