A point of privilege

web posted June 1998

Government Reform and Oversight Committee
May 12, 1998
Point of Privilege
Chairman Dan Burton (R-IN)

I rise today to take a personal point of privilege and to discuss the Government Reform Committee's investigation into illegal campaign contributions and other crimes.

My conduct as Chairman has been criticized by many of my Democratic colleagues. Those criticisms have been echoed in the press.

So I am taking this point of personal privilege to lay out for the American people the facts about this investigation. The fact is that this Committee has been subjected to a level of stonewalling and obstruction that has never been seen by a Congressional investigation.

This investigation has been stonewalled by the White House. This investigation has been stonewalled by the Democratic National Committee. This Committee has seen more than 90 witnesses either take the 5th or flee the country to avoid testifying -- more than 90. The fact that all of these people have invoked their Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination is a pretty strong indication that a lot of crimes were committed.

Tomorrow, the Committee will vote on immunity for four witnesses -- all of whom have previously invoked their right against self-incrimination. The Democrats on the Government Reform Committee have voted once to block immunity and keep these witnesses from testifying. I hope that tomorrow they will reconsider and vote to allow this investigation to move forward. This investigation has seen enough obstruction and enough stonewalling.

Before tomorrow's vote, I want to lay out for the American people, what has happened in this investigation over the last year, the stalling and delaying tactics that have been used against us, and what has brought us to this point. I want to give a comprehensive summary of events, so I am not going to yield to my colleagues during this speech.

I. Investigative Process and Obstructions

I became Chairman of the Government and Reform and Oversight Committee in January 1997.

The President said he would give his full cooperation to all Congressional investigations of illegal foreign fundraising.

Why are we conducting this investigation? Because there is very strong evidence that crimes were committed. Let's take a look at some of the allegations that compelled us to begin the investigation:

That the DNC had accepted millions of dollars in illegal foreign campaign contributions.

That $3 million of the $4.5 million in contributions attributed to John Huang had to be returned because of suspicions about their origins.

That the Chinese government had developed and implemented a plan to influence the elections in the United States.

That Charlie Trie, a friend of the President's from Arkansas, had funneled close to $700,000 in contributions associated with a Taiwanese cult to the President's legal defense fund.

That Charlie Trie's Macau-based benefactor had wired him in excess of $1 million from overseas banks.

That Charlie Trie was behind roughly $600,000 in suspicious contributions to the Democratic National Committee.

That Pauline Kanchanalak and her family funneled half-a-million dollars to the Democratic Party from Thailand.

That Chinese gun merchants, Cuban drug smugglers, and Russian mob figures were being invited to intimate White House events with the President in exchange for large contributions.

That the former Associate Attorney General received $700,000 from friends and associates of the president -- including $100,000 from the Riady family -- at a time that he was supposed to be cooperating with a criminal investigation.

These are serious allegations of serious crimes. The Justice Department recently brought indictments against three of these individuals, and a fourth -- Johnnie Chung -- has pled guilty.

In January, 1997, I sent letters to the White House requesting copies of all documents relating to the investigation. I asked for documents regarding John Huang, Charlie Trie, White House fundraisers, etc. I gave the White House a chance to cooperate.

Chairman Clinger, who preceded me, had written to the White House in October of 1996 and requested all documents regarding John Huang. Press reports had indicated that the White House had already assembled these documents and had them in boxes before the end of 1996.

The entire month of February passed, and we received only a trickle of documents from the White House.

In March, it was clear that the White House was not going to comply voluntarily. The President had offered his cooperation at the beginning of the year, but the White House refused to turn over documents to the Committee. The White House campaign of stalling had begun. So I issued a subpoena for the documents.

I held a meeting with the President's new White House Counsel -- Charles Ruff. Mr. Ruff assured me that the President would not assert executive privilege over any documents.

The White House continued to resist turning over documents -- despite a lawful subpoena. Despite the earlier assurances, they told us they intended to claim executive privilege on over 60 documents that were relevant to the fundraising scandal.

It had always been White House policy not to claim executive privilege whenever personal wrongdoing or potential criminal conduct was being investigated. President Clinton's own counsel, Lloyd Cutler, had reiterated this policy early in the Clinton Administration. But now, President Clinton was using executive privilege to block the investigation.

The Month of April passed, and little or no progress had been made in getting the documents we had called for in the subpoena. This was more than four months after my first document request had been sent to the White House.

In May, I was compelled to schedule a Committee meeting to hold White House Counsel Charles Ruff in contempt of Congress. More than four months had passed since I first asked for the President's cooperation in producing documents -- and there had been nothing but stalling.

It was only with this sword hanging over their heads that the White House finally began to make efforts to comply with our subpoena. Mr. Ruff agreed to turn over all documents required by the subpoena within six weeks. He also agreed to allow Committee attorneys to review documents on their privilege log to determine if the Committee needed to have them.

We reviewed those documents. We did need many of them. After months of stalling, we finally got some of them.

By June, Mr. Ruff provided me with a letter stating that the White House had, "to the best of their knowledge," turned over every document in their possession required by the subpoena. We would find out later that this was not true.

Partisan Attacks:

All the while we were struggling to get documents from the White House, I was subjected to a steady stream of mudslinging and vicious personal attacks from Democratic operatives and others close to the President.

The DNC, which at the time was resisting complying with our subpoena, was spending thousands of dollars conducting opposition research on my background to try to intimidate me. They produced a scurrilous 20 page report detailing every trip I had ever taken, the contributions I had received over the years, my financial disclosure statements, and anything else they could find. This document, which made outrageous and untrue accusations against me, was faxed around to reporters in an effort to drum up negative publicity about me and intimidate me.

So much for cooperation with a legitimate Congressional investigation.

In March, the week my Committee's budget was to be voted on by the House, a former Executive Director of the DNC made a slanderous accusation that I shook him down for campaign contributions. His accusation was printed on the front page of the Washington Post. His accusations, which are completely untrue and absurd on their face, became the subject of a Justice Department investigation.

As it turns out, this individual -- Mark Siegel -- was a former Carter White House aide, a former DNC Executive Director, a Democratic fundraiser and a Democratic Lobbyist. More importantly, it became known later that he is a close friend and business associate of then White House attorney Lanny Davis.

His accusations were clearly politically motivated and timed to hurt the chances for approval of our budget.

So much for cooperation from the Democrats.

Other sleazy accusations were being dished out to the press by anonymous Democratic agents. One reporter from my home state received derogatory information about me in an unmarked manilla envelope without any return address.

One Washington reporter got an anonymous phone call and was told to go to a phone booth in the Rayburn Building and look in the back of the phone book. He went and found an envelope of defamatory information about me.

This is the type of smear campaign that every Committee Chairman who has attempted to conduct oversight of the White House has been subjected to. They attempted to smear Chairman Jim Leach. They attempted to smear Chairman Bill Clinger. They attempted to smear Senator Al D'Amato. They attempted to smear Senator Fred Thompson. They even attempted to smear FBI Director Louis Freeh when he sought to convince the Attorney General to appoint an independent counsel.

What does this kind of behavior by the Democrat Party say to the American people? Is this cooperation? Were these smear campaigns orchestrated by the White House? That's something the American people deserve to know.

The FBI and the White House:

In February, 1997, my staff learned by reading the Washington Post that the White House had sought a briefing from the FBI about the evidence it had gathered about Chinese efforts to infiltrate our political system.

For obvious reasons, the FBI resisted giving such a briefing -- the criminal investigation potentially implicated members of the White House staff.

I learned from discussions with FBI Director Louis Freeh that, at a time that he was traveling in the Middle East, senior officials at the Justice Department attempted to provide this information about the ongoing criminal investigation to the White House -- a move that the FBI adamantly opposed.

According to Director Freeh, when his staff learned that Justice Department lawyers were planning on giving this information to the White House, Director Freeh's Chief of Staff called him on his airplane halfway around the world in a last ditch effort to stop the transfer of this information, which could have potentially jeopardized the investigation. Director Freeh was forced to make an emergency phone call to the Attorney General from his plane in the Middle East to intervene and stop the process.

When the Attorney General testified before our Committee in December, she told a different version of events. She testified that she initiated the call to Director Freeh on his airplane to consult with him about providing the information to the White House.

However, when Director Freeh testified the next day, he confirmed that it was he who initiated the call after his staff warned him that the FBI was being circumvented so that sensitive information could be provided to the White House.

Continuing Struggles with the White House

Now let's get back to the White House.

The stonewalling and obstruction from the White House did not stop following our agreement with Mr. Ruff.

The letter I received in June, 1997 from Mr. Ruff assured me that "to the best of his knowledge," all documents relevant to our investigation had been provided to the Committee.

Unfortunately, these assurances were hollow. Throughout the summer, boxes of "newly discovered" documents dribbled into the Committee offices.

Often, when the documents contained damaging revelations, they were leaked to the press before being provided to the Committee. When this happened, the documents were normally given to reporters late on a Friday or over a busy weekend to try to deaden their impact on the American people.

It was not unusual to receive documents pertaining to a White House or DNC employee shortly after that employee was deposed. This forced us on a continuing basis to consider redeposing witnesses, costing additional time and money.

In the Senate, Senator Thompson faced the same obstacles.

Last July, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee heard two days of testimony from DNC Finance Director Richard Sullivan. The evening following Sullivan's testimony, the White House delivered several boxes of documents shedding new light on Sullivan's activities. Senator Thompson was so infuriated that he canceled his agreement allowing the White House to provide documents voluntarily and issued his first subpoena to the White House.

On August 1, more Richard Sullivan documents turned up at the Democratic National Committee. The DNC turned over several boxes of memos and handwritten notes from the filing cabinet in Sullivan's office. The idea that the DNC could have overlooked drawers and drawers of relevant documents right in Richard Sullivan's office strains credibility. The Senate was forced to redepose Sullivan.

The final straw came in October, when the White House videotapes were discovered.

The White House had in its possession close to one hundred videotapes of the President speaking and mingling with subjects of our investigation at DNC fundraisers and White House coffees. The President could be seen at White House fundraisers with John Huang, James Riady, Pauline Kanchanalak, Charlie Trie, and others. In one tape, the President can be seen being introduced at a fundraiser to Charlie Trie and several foreign businessmen as "the Trie Team." This was serious evidence that the White House had withheld from Congress and the Justice Department for over six months.

Despite the fact that our subpoena clearly ordered the production of any relevant videotapes, the White House had, for six months, failed to reveal their existence.

It was only under pressure from a Senate investigator, who had received a tip from a source, that the White House admitted to the existence of the tapes. In other words, they didn't turn over the fundraising tapes until their hand was caught in the cookie jar.

Charles Ruff has said publicly that he was informed of the existence of the tapes on Wednesday, October 1. He met with Attorney General Reno on Thursday. He did not inform the Attorney General at that meeting that the tapes existed and that they had not been turned over to the Justice Department. I believe that he had an obligation to do so.

This was a critical week. The Attorney General was in the process of deciding whether to seek appointment of an independent counsel. She had to make her decision on Friday, October 3 -- the next day.

On Friday, the Attorney General released a letter declining to appoint an independent counsel. The tapes were not released to the Justice Department until the weekend.

In other words, Mr. Ruff had a face-to-face meeting with the Attorney General, failed to disclose to her that the fundraising videotapes existed, and allowed her to make a very important decision on an independent counsel without having any knowledge of them. That is just wrong.

The White House Database Investigation

I called Charles Ruff and other attorneys from the White House Counsel's office to testify before our Committee in November to answer for their failure to produce these tapes.

Under questioning from a Committee attorney, White House Deputy Counsel Cheryl Mills admitted that she and White House Counsel Jack Quinn had withheld from the Committee for one year an important document related to the investigation of political uses of the White House Database.

The document in question was a page of notes taken by a White House staffer that indicated the "President's desire to integrate"the White House database with the DNC's database. This document had a direct bearing on the Subcommittee's investigation. Cheryl Mills admitted that she had kept the document in a file in her office for over a year based on a legal sleight of hand.

Her behavior in this instance was another in a long string of incidents that reflected the White House's desire to stall and delay Congressional investigations of its alleged misconduct. This kind of behavior is inexcusable for a White House Attorney and a public servant.

It was not the only time the Subcommittee has faced obstructionism.

The White House official most directly responsible for developing the controversial database was Marsha Scott. Committee attorneys had to attempt to depose Ms. Scott on three separate occasions to overcome her refusal to answer questions.

In April, Ms. Scott was subpoenaed to attend a deposition. She arrived for the deposition, began answering questions, and then abruptly walked out of the deposition. This Committee has never seen a witness who was under subpoena walk out in the middle of a deposition.

Subcommittee Chairman David McIntosh was forced to call an emergency meeting of the Subcommittee at 8:00 that evening to force Ms. Scott to return and answer the questions.

This is typical of the kinds of obstructions this Committee has encountered I dealing with the White House.

The White House strategy was accurately described in a recent New York Post editorial as "the four Ds: Deny, Delay, Denigrate and Distract." It is apparent that the White House's game plan has been to stall and obstruct legitimate investigations for as long as possible, and then criticize the length of the investigations.

It has been fairly noted by a number of the leading editorial pages that if the President and his subordinates would simply cooperate and tell the truth, these investigations could be wrapped up quickly.

The Government Reform Committee continued to have White House documents dribble in as late as last December -- six months after Charles Ruff had certified that they had provided everything.

Trading Subpoenas with the Justice Department

Since January of last year, I had been seeking information from the Justice Department about its investigation into allegations that the Government of Vietnam may have attempted to bribe Commerce Secretary Ron Brown to influence policy on the normalization of relations with Vietnam.

The New York Times had reported that the Justice Department had received evidence of international wire transfers related to the case.

Despite the fact that the Justice Department had closed the case, they were resisting providing any information to the Committee.

On Tuesday, July 8, I sent a subpoena to the Justice Department for the information.

Three days later, on Friday, July 11, my campaign received a subpoena from the Justice Department for five years of campaign records.

Although Mr. Siegel had made his allegations against me in March, there had been no signs of any investigative activity within the Justice Department until I sent a subpoena to the Attorney General.

Was this a case of retaliation? That is a question that the American people have a right to have answered.

Obstruction from Overseas

This Committee has faced obstructions from the White House -- that is obvious. It is also true that this Committee has faced serious obstructions from other governments.

We tried to send a team of investigators to China and Hong Kong earlier this year. There are important witnesses that need to be interviewed to find out who was behind major wire transfers of money that wound up being funneled into campaigns. The Chinese government turned us down flat.

We attempted to get information from the Bank of China about who originated wire transfers of hundreds of thousands of dollars to Charlie Trie, Ng Lap Seng, and others. The Bank of China told us that they are an arm of the Chinese government and that they would not comply with our subpoena.

I wrote to the President and asked for his assistance to break through this logjam with the Chinese government. We have received no assistance whatsoever.

Silence of the Witnesses:

My friends on the Democratic side of the aisle are fond of complaining about the number of subpoenas I have issued. For the record, I have issued just over 600 since the investigation began a year-and-a-half ago.

There is a very simple reason that I have been compelled to issue these subpoenas. This Committee has received absolutely no cooperation from more than 90 key witnesses and participants in efforts to funnel foreign money into U.S. campaigns.

A total of 91 witness have either Taken the Fifth to avoid incriminating themselves or fled the country to avoid testifying.

The Justice Department hasn't received much cooperation either. When Director Freeh testified before the Committee last December, he told us that they had issued over 1,000 subpoenas.

53 people have taken the Fifth. These include Webster Hubbell -- the President's hand-picked Associate Attorney General, John Huang -- the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce who was in the White House over 100 times during the President's first term, and Mark Middleton -- a high-level aide in the office of the White House Chief of Staff.

I want to be clear about what this means -- high-level appointees of the President have exercised their 5th Amendment rights not to implicate themselves in criminal activities. These people do not want to testify because they do not want to admit to the commission of crimes.

38 witnesses have either fled the country or refused to make themselves available to be interviewed in their countries or residence.

There has never before been a Congressional investigation that has had to investigate a scandal that is so broad and so international in scope.

There has never before been a Congressional investigation that has had over 90 witnesses refuse to cooperate or flee the country.

The fact that we have had so many non-cooperating witnesses is the reason that we have had to issue so many subpoenas.

For instance, Charlie Trie, even though he has returned to the United States, has refused to cooperate with the Committee. To overcome this problem, we have had to issue 117 subpoenas to banks, phone companies, businesses and other individuals to get information that Mr. Trie could have provided to us himself.

We have had to issue 60 subpoenas to attempt to get information about Ted Sioeng. Ted Sioeng and his family have given $400,000 to the Democratic National Committee. They have given $150,000 to Republican causes. Not only has Ted Sioeng fled the country, but more than a dozen people associated with him left as well. If Ted Sioeng would come back to the United States and cooperate with this investigation, we would not have needed to issue all of these subpoenas.

80% of the subpoenas I have issued have been targeted to get information about a half-a-dozen individuals who have been implicated in this scandal and who have taken the Fifth to avoid testifying.

Just to be clear -- more than 90 people have taken the Fifth or left the country. This is unprecedented. This should be a clear indication to people of the extent of the lawbreaking that occurred during the last campaign.

Webster Hubbell

At this point, I would like to say a few things about the release of the Webster Hubbell prison tapes.

First, Webster Hubbell was the Associate Attorney General of the United States. He was hand picked by President Clinton to serve as one of the highest law-enforcement officers in the land.

Within a year, he was forced to resign in disgrace because of a criminal investigation into fraud at his law firm. He was eventually convicted and served 18 months in prison.

Between the time he resigned and the time he was convicted, he received $700,000 in payments from friends and associates of the President -- for doing little or no work.

$100,000 came from the Riady family of Indonesia -- owners of the Lippo Group. This payment came within a few days of 10 meetings at the White House -- some involving the President -- involving John Huang, James Riady and Webster Hubbell.

Serious allegations have been made that this $700,000 was hush money meant to silence Mr. Hubbell. A criminal investigation is under way and Mr. Hubbell was just indicted for failure to pay almost $900,000 in taxes.

The American people have a right to know what happened. They have a right to know why Mr. Hubbell received this money and what he did for it. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and people don't shell out $700,000 for nothing.

You would expect that the President's hand-picked appointee to a powerful Justice Department position would be the first to volunteer to cooperate with a Congressional investigation. Instead Mr. Hubbell has taken the Fifth and remained silent.

This has forced us to seek other sources of information. That is why I subpoenaed the prison tapes of Mr. Hubbell's phone conversations.

Out of 150 hours of conversations, my staff prepared just over one hour for release to the public. Private conversations that had nothing to do with our investigation were screened out.

What was contained in that hour of conversations raises troubling questions. Given the seriousness of the allegations, this material deserves to be on the public record.

On these tapes, we hear Mrs. Hubbell say that she fears that she will lose her job at the Interior Department if Mr. Hubbell takes actions that will hurt the Clintons. We hear Mrs. Hubbell say that she feels she is being "squeezed" by the White House.

Webster Hubbell states that he must "roll over one more time."

These statements raise very disturbing questions about the conduct of the White House and the conduct of the Hubbells. The American people have a right to know the answers.

Let me say just a couple of things about the charges of selective editing. Mistakes were made in the editing process. As Chairman, I take responsibility for those mistakes. But they were just that -- innocent mistakes. In the process of editing out 149 hours of personal conversations, the staff cut out a couple of paragraphs that should have been left in.

Here are a few points to keep in mind:

We are not talking about transcripts -- what were prepared were logs -- summaries of information on tapes -- they were not verbatim transcripts and they were never identified as such.

Exculpatory statements about both Mrs. Clinton and other Clinton Administration officials were left in the logs. In one case, an exculpatory statement by Mr. Hubbell about Mrs. Clinton was underlined to highlight it.

Tapes were never altered. This charge has been repeated time and time again by Democrats -- and it is false.

Once the tapes were made public, reporters were allowed to listen to and record the appropriate sections of the tapes in their entirety. These sections included the statements about Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Hubbell that have been complained about. How can anyone argue that there was an intent to deceive when reporters were allowed to listen to the comments I have been accused of deleting??

Finally, in an effort to end once-and-for-all these charges of selective editing, I have released the tapes of these 50 conversations in their entirety.

What I find most unfortunate is that this incident has detracted from the important facts about the Hubbell tapes -- that it appears that Mr. Hubbell and his wife were under a great deal of pressure to remain silent. She felt she was being squeezed by the White House. And he felt he had to "roll over one more time."This is something that absolutely must be investigated. It is something that the American people have an absolute right to know.

Immunity

This brings us to tomorrow's Committee meeting. Tomorrow, we will try to break through this stone wall by granting immunity to four witnesses.

The Justice Department has agreed to immunity. They have been thoroughly consulted. The Justice Department has already immunized two of these witnesses themselves. There is no reason to oppose immunity. Yet 19 Democrats on the Government Reform Committee voted in lock-step to block immunity. They voted to prevent these witnesses from telling the truth to the American people.

I want to tell the American people a little bit about who these witnesses are.

Two of these witnesses were employees of Johnny Chung. They were involved in his conduit contribution schemes. They were involved in setting up many of his meetings at the White House and with other government officials.

Kent La is a very important witness. He is a business associate of Ted Sioeng. He is the U.S. distributor of Red Pagoda Mountain cigarettes. Ted Sioeng has a major stake in these cigarettes. This is the best selling brand of cigarettes in China. It is the third largest selling cigarette in the world. This company is ownded by the Communist Chinese Government. It is a convenient way to get money into this country.

Ted Sioeng and his associates gave $400,000 in contributions to the Democratic National Committee. Of that amount, Kent La gave $50,000. Every witness that we have spoken to says that if you want to understand Ted Sioeng, you must talk to Kent La.

Kent La has invoked the Fifth Amendment. He will not testify without immunity.

The Democrats have voted to block immunity and prevent him from testifying. I cannot for the life of me understand why they want to do that.

This is not a partisan issue. Ted Sioeng didn't just give to Democrats, he gave to both sides. He gave $150,000 to Republican causes as well as to the Democrats.

It seems very clear that most of this half-a-million dollars donated by Ted Sioeng and his associates came from the profits of selling Chinese cigarettes around the world. Kent La is the one individual who can tell us if that is true or not.

I do not understand why my colleagues want to keep this witness from testifying and protect a major Communist Chinese Cigarette Company. Especially the gentleman from California, who has bee such a forceful advocate of reducing smoking here in the United States.

We have a number of good Members on my Committee -- on both sides of the aisle. I think that we have conscientious Members -- both Democrat and Republican, who are outraged by some of the things that happened during the last election. I hope that all of my colleagues are thinking long and hard about their votes, and I hope that they will reconsider and support immunity tomorrow.

Conclusion

I have tried throughout this discussion to try to make clear to the American people that this is an investigation that has faced countless obstacles.

We have faced obstruction from the White House.

We have faced stalling from the Democratic National Committee

We have faced noncooperation from foreign governments.

We have had over 90 people take the Fifth or flee the country to avoid testifying.

However, we will continue. There are very serious allegations of crimes that have been committed. The American people have a right to know what happened.

I hope that tomorrow, we will start to tear down the stone wall by granting immunity to these four witnesses and getting their testimony.

At the committee meeting, committee Democrats blocked all attempts to grant immunity to the four witnesses.




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