SENATE Rept. 105-167 - 105th Congress 2d Session - March 10, 1998

Additional Views of Chairman Fred Thompson The Committee Report documents the facts surrounding what may be considered, at least from a campaign money standpoint, the most corrupt political campaign in modern history. Little needs to be added to the ugly picture that has already been painted. It is important for us now to reflect upon the other implications of the investigation. It is well established that Congress has the authority under the Constitution to conduct investigations for the purpose of laying facts out before the American people as to the workings of their government and for the additional purpose of helping Congress to legislate. Therefore, our duties were twofold: to look into any wrongdoing and, secondly, to consider the implications of what we learn in terms of existing laws. The Committee had some success with regard to both of these responsibilities. The American people have a much better understanding of how their system operated in 1996. Also several individuals were identified as having been involved in improper or illegal conduct. Almost as soon as our Committee went out of business, federal indictments started being returned and there has been at least one call for an independent counsel by the Attorney General. These activities in large part have to do with our Committee's activities. Although campaign finance reform legislation was not passed, it was not because of lack of information. The gigantic loopholes that were created by the Clinton-Gore campaign and the Attorney General's acquiescence in those activities are now well known because of the work of the Committee. This information should have been sufficient reason for Congress to act, but it did not. However, a permanent record has been created and will forevermore be a part of the ongoing debate which I am confident will eventually result in an overhaul of the laws pertaining to how we elect public officials in this country. Those who are critical of the Committee's efforts because we did not produce a ``smoking gun'' or pass a particular piece of legislation, overlook these solid contributions. Nevertheless, we didn't do as well as we could have. Our work was affected tremendously by the fact that Congress is a much more partisan institution than it used to be. I was personally involved in the Watergate investigation. We had our share of battles on the staff level, but when push came to shove, the Members of the Watergate Committee stood together in order to ferret out wrongdoing on the part of the Nixon Administration. As a young lawyer, I signed the pleading suing President Nixon in order for the Committee to gain access to the White House tapes. Senator Howard Baker, the Ranking Republican Member, made the motion to file that suit. I asked the question in public session that revealed for the first time publicly the existence of that taping system. The Republicans on that Committee felt an obligation to thoroughly investigate the alleged wrongdoing of their own President. And, in large part because the investigation was conducted with bipartisan cooperation, campaign finance reform was one of the benefits. Congress made sweeping changes in 1974. We all watched the Iran Contra investigation of President Reagan and saw that, although the Committee had many rough days when witnesses seemed to put the Committee on the defensive, the Republican leader of the Committee, Senator Warren Rudman, joined with the Chairman, Senator Daniel Inouye and presented a united front in order to get at the truth. Historically there are other examples wherein Committee minorities have cooperated in an aggressive investigation of a President of their own party. We should realize that not only is Minority cooperation in investigations and hearings desirable and appropriate, it is actually an absolute necessity if the Committee is going to carry out its obligations to the American people. As we look to the future and possible future investigations, we should do so with the understanding that if a handful of Senators, along with counsel, see their role as defense lawyers for the President and use the Committee's valuable time to minimize and denigrate the Committee's work and to provide justification and encouragement for those being investigated, then we can be assured that the investigation will not achieve its goals. In the past I believe that members have been deterred from extreme partisanship because of concern over public opinion and how they would be treated in the press. For whatever reason I believe that concern is not nearly as prevalent today. Partisanship begets partisanship and confrontation and the press is much more likely to report on ``partisan bickering'' than to pass judgment on who is responsible for it. That hurts the reputation of the Committee and plays into the hands of those who want the Committee to fail. The minority, of course, claims that the partisanship was on the Republican side; they simply wanted the investigation to be balanced. Yet I repeatedly assured the Minority, publicly and privately, that if they would assist and participate in the investigation of illegal and improper campaign activities, I would join them not only in making sure that Republicans didn't escape scrutiny, but in assuring that we looked at the broader picture of the role of independent groups. I also promised to address other issues that might merit legislative attention in our report to the Senate and other committees of jurisdiction. I went against the wishes of many in my party and supported an inquiry broad enough to include more than just the Clinton-Gore Campaign. The Minority answered that gesture with a demand that we have the broadest possible investigation with the least amount of money with which to conduct it. From the outset, the Minority went about trying to sell the notion that the primary mission of our investigation was campaign finance reform--even though the Governmental Affairs Committee has no jurisdiction in this area. If that had been the primary reason for the hearings, the Rules Committee would have conducted it. Instead of being concernedabout the massive array of criminal and improper activity that affected the basic integrity of our electorial process, the Minority attempted from the outset to divert valuable time and resources toward subpoenas to Republican-related groups which apparently were engaged in no illegal activity at all. So even though we were faced with investigating a massive scandal, and even though scores of people were leaving the country and taking the fifth amendment and the Committee was faced with a severe time limitation, the Minority insisted that the Committee, at the very beginning, devote substantial valuable time and resources to ``even things up.'' No Committee can effectively operate under these circumstances. The Minority report reveals the depth of their partisan commitment. It consists of three parts: First, an attack on the Majority of this Committee; secondly, attacks on as many other Republicans as possible; and third, a defense brief for the Administration. The Minority now comprises the only group in America that does not believe that there was serious wrong doing in the Clinton-Gore campaign and the DNC during the last election. The Minority's concerns are not with the improper activities of the highest elected and appointed officials in this country. Their concerns are with Republicans who are private citizens, people such as Grover Norquist, whom they ruthlessly castigate without justification. While espousing campaign finance reform, the Minority proved to be reforms greatest enemy. By opposing a fair investigation into the wrongdoing of the administration, they sacrificed all credibility on the reform issue and provided a safe haven for all opponents of reform. I would recommend, that in the future, it be acknowledged that a Committee investigation cannot reach its potential if there is not agreement on the front end as to what the Committee's goals are to be. In future similar circumstances, leaders of both parties, along with the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee, should meet and agree upon the goals and priorities of the Committee. The agreement should be reflected in the resolution authorizing the investigation. If such an agreement cannot be reached, then the investigation should not proceed. While this seems to give the Minority a veto, in a very real sense the Minority already has a veto power as set forth above. The court of public opinion will remain the only real restraint, as is the case now. Furthermore, future investigations should be done by a select Committee, not a standing Committee. The model should be the Watergate Committee. The leadership should select four members of the Majority and three member of the minority, based, in part, upon their agreement to work together to achieve the agreed upon purposes and priorities of the Committee. The Committee should not have a cutoff date. As set forth in the Committee report, the imposition of a cutoff date severely hamstrings the Committee's work by giving those being investigated a target date by which to delay and stonewall. After the Iran-Contra hearings, Senators Mitchell and Cohen advised us of how unwise it was to impose such a cutoff date and that message needs to be delivered again. I believe that, with adherence to the above guidelines, that Congress can continue its historic investigative responsibilities. Otherwise, unless the atmosphere in Congress changes markedly, investigations will become increasingly partisan and less productive. Under present circumstances, a President under investigation knows that, regardless of his transgressions, he will have substantial support in Congress, with some Members defending his every action. It is important to recognize that a Committee must have a certain measure of cooperation from the President, whether it be voluntary or induced. During this investigation, the White House did everything possible to delay, mislead and undermine the Committee. It was very mindful of the cutoff date. Time and again promises to produce documents would be broken. Records would be produced after the relevant witness already had testified. Documents would be withheld and privileges would be asserted solely for the purpose of buying time. During the Iran-Contra investigation, President Reagan waived all privileges and opened up all records, even including his own personal diaries. During Watergate, President Nixon faced a united committee and a special prosecutor willing to take him to court to force the release of the White House Tapes. President Clinton faced a much different situation. His White House felt no compulsion to cooperate, knowing that we had a divided committee and knowing he had an Attorney General who would not appoint a special counsel to investigate the campaign finance scandal. In addition, most Committees conducting investigations as important as this one are accompanied by a very active grand jury. Again, this was true of Watergate and Iran Contra, as well as many other investigations. Aggressive criminal investigations make it much more likely for a Committee to obtain a cooperation of key witnesses because of the pressure such witnesses feel. Clearly, key witnesses felt no such pressure during our investigation. But very shortly after our Committee went out of business on December 31, 1997, indictments started to be returned against associates of the President and Vice President, even though information of their activities had been known for over a year. Although many are questioning the future viability of the independent counsel statute, the Attorney General's handling of this matter will present a strong argument against abolition of that statute. It is also clear that major committee investigations have to come to terms with the realities of the modern media. Most of the activities of Congress and individual members of Congress are judged by their ability to get their message across on television, usually in short sound bites. With the proliferation of cable channels, there is extreme competition for the attention of the public, which has an increasingly short attention span.The public demands, or at least the news media thinks the public demands, high drama and quick resolutions. Witnesses with ``star quality'' are required. Complex Committee investigations do not fit neatly within this environment. In the first place, 16 Senators, each usually with only 10 minutes in which to question, is not a system designed to effectively cross examine witnesses. With rare exceptions, these investigations are laborious, often boring, piecemeal processes which require an audience which follows closely enough to understand the significance of the testimony they are hearing. Watergate, of course, was an exception. Although that investigation started off in the traditional way, things soon changed. The Watergate Committee started off with a young employee of the Committee to Re-elect the President, who was questioned about an organizational chart which set forth the members of the Committee staff. The Committee was pursuing a ``bottom up'' approach, starting with minor witnesses. Predictably, the hearings were pronounced boring and useless. Fortunately, shortly thereafter, James McCord was being sentenced down the street before Judge Sirica and important information was elicited. Shortly after that, Mr. McCord was before the Committee and things began to take a different course. Then, John Dean, the White House Counsel, came forth to testify against the President and then the taping system was discovered. Of course, these were extremely unusual events which had never occurred before that time and have not since then. Historically, investigations have much less dramatic results. Investigations usually resolve some matters and leave many matters unresolved, as is the case with both criminal and civil trials. It may be that Committees could serve their purpose in the future by simply laying out the results of investigations already completed. Under such an approach, the decision as to whether or not to even have public hearings would await the completion of the investigation when results had been analyzed and conclusions reached. Regardless of the quantity or importance of the information produced, the investigative committee of the future that cannot produce a ``smoking gun'' or dramatic witnesses on a regular basis will not be judged as having ``captured the public attention,'' which now is becoming the ultimate test of success. The China Issue As with all other non-Republican areas of our investigation, the Minority in their report seeks to minimize the Committee's efforts with regard to the issue of foreign influence--even to the point of using misleading closed-session comments out of context. Therefore, the public is left with a partisan split as to the interpretation of classified materials. I would suggest to anyone who wants to objectively consider this matter to do the following: Read my July 8, 1997 opening statement, wherein I set forth some of the facts pertaining to the Chinese plan to influence our elections. First of all, you will note the difference between what I said and what some have reported that I said. I did not say, for example, that I would prove, nor did I allege, that the PRC funnelled money into our elections, although, as it turns out, there is strong circumstantial evidence that they were so involved. Some in the media have difficulty in making the distinction between the plan on the one hand, and the implementation of the plan on the other. Secondly, read the Majority report which sets forth the individuals with close ties to the Chinese government who were funneling illegal money into the Democratic National Committee. It concludes that there is ``strong circumstantial evidence'' that China was involved. And while reading these documents, keep in mind the fact that both of these documents were carefully worded and they were thoroughly vetted by the CIA and FBI and National Security Agency, which, are headed by appointees of the Clinton Administration. When Members of the Minority began to attack my statement, I asked FBI Director Freeh, ``Would you have let me go forward with my statement knowing that it contained incorrect information?'' He responded, ``Of course not.'' In view of some of the comments in the Minority report and certain Minority individual views, I believe a few further comments are appropriate. Why did I make the comments I made on the opening day of the hearings? First of all, I knew the statement was accurate and, secondly, I did not believe that the matter was being seriously investigated. Our committee had a short life span and it was my belief that, if we could not bring the matters to the public's attention, serious questions with regard to the 1996 campaigns might never be thoroughly pursued. Therefore, after consulting with the Majority on the Committee and after having asked Senator Glenn to join me (which he declined to do), I made the statement and have continued to press our federal agencies to inform Congress on the information they have on this matter and to conduct a proper and thorough investigation. As a result, our intelligence and investigative agencies began to supply to Congress--albeit grudingly--the information to which it was entitled. The public now knows about the plan and the serious questions that have been raised concerning the implementation of the plan. Also, after several missteps, the Justice Department seems to be pursuing this matter. Indictments are now being returned. All of this has been done without revealing classified information which might jeopardize our country's means and methods or sources. To go back in more detail, early on in our investigation, our staff became aware of the fact that our Federal intelligence and investigative agencies had information which conclusively demonstrated that in mid-1995 the Chinese government devised a plan comprised of several parts, including illegal activities with regard to our elections. Several targeted Members of Congress were briefed concerning this plan as was the National Security Council. As we looked into this matter, we came away with the distinct impression that the Justice Department was doing very little, if anything, to pursue this matter and thatthis information was not being coordinated with those in the Justice Department who were investigating the campaign finance scandal. These concerns later proved to be well founded. The information, of course, was classified. We requested that the FBI, CIA and NSA work with us to develop a declassified document whereby the public could be informed of this information at least in general terms. Over a period of many days our staff worked with these agencies. The agencies made suggestions, deletions and corrections and finally agreed upon a document. They requested that the heads of these agencies not be called into public session because the mere revelations of which agency had which information might prove to be damaging to sources and methods. We agreed. So while the underlying documentation could not be revealed and witnesses could not be called in public session, we would at least be allowed to provide some hard conclusions to the American people concerning an issue of importance to them. We thought it might also have the effect of energizing the Justice Department. I assumed that, because of the sign-off by these agencies, my July 8 statement would provoke little controversy within the Committee. That, of course, proved to be an incorrect assumption. We persisted in prodding these agencies for additional information. They became very reluctant to give us additional information, and in response to question after question, the Justice Department in particular would refuse to provide answers because of ``an ongoing criminal investigation.'' However, even with these barriers, troubling signs appeared. On two different occasions, we were told that the FBI had discovered extremely relevant information, with regard to individuals with close ties to the Chinese government, that they had just discovered in their files. In other words they had the information, but they didn't know that they had it. This last occasion was after the Committee had ended its public hearings. Furthermore, the Attorney General acknowledged that this information involving China had not been given to the Campaign Finance Task Force. This prompted the Attorney General to request an inspector general investigation as to why this had happened. So not only did the Justice Department have information concerning China's plan to involve itself in our elections. Justice also had information involving illegal money laundering by individuals with close ties to the Chinese government. Apparently no one was looking at the information in its total context to determine if there was a relationship. This, of course, was and is extremely troubling. We are now told that that problem has been rectified at this late date. As part of the Committee report, we again worked with the above mentioned agencies to carefully draft a rendition of the facts in this area. Again, the underlying information is classified, but we were able to produce a report which demonstrates that (1) there definitely was such a plan and (2) there is strong circumstantial evidence that the Chinese were involved in causing money to be funneled into our 1996 political campaigns. Since the Minority persists in trying to undermine this report, certain additional facts should be added. The characterizations of Maria Hsia and Ted Sieong were characterizations given to this Committee by an investigative agency of this Administration. They provided underlying information which has never been and may not be disclosed, which more than amply supports these characterizations. While it is certainly not usually desirable to make such a statement about individuals without being able to supply all of the reasons for making it, on balance its obvious importance and relevance to this investigation makes it important that this information be given to the public. There is little point in undertaking a sentence-by-sentence rebuttal of the deficiencies in the Minority discussion. However, a few representations made in the Minority chapter are worth mentioning here. First, the Minority's narrative regarding Mochtar and James Riady, which states ``there was no non-public relevant information not already uncovered in the Committee's public investigation,' 1 is wrong. There is additional information available from two separate federal agencies. It discloses a long-term relationship between the Riadys and a Chinese intelligence agency that is distinct from the business relations between the Riadys and China Resources cited by the Minority. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- \1\ Minority Report, Chapter Two, section ``The Riadys.'' --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Second, the Minority chapter discusses the notion of what constitutes an ``agent'' at some length, stating that its use in the Committee report resulted in ``misleading allegations.' 2 The Committee report employs the word in one instance--to describe Maria Hsia. The word choice was agreed to by the relevant intelligence and law enforcement agencies. In fact, it was suggested by them. As the Minority well knows, or ought to know, the use of the word ``agent'' is amply supported by information made available to the Committee, which cannot be disclosed publicly. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- \2\ Minority Report, Chapter Two, section ``Intermediaries: Relation to the Committee's Public Investigation.' --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Quite apart from these and other problematic representations by the Minority, I am bothered by their selective and misleading quotations drawn from the Committee's July 28, 1997 closed session hearing. The apparent point of that exercise is to revisit the issue of whether the opening statement I made on July 8, 1997 regarding the ``China Plan'' was accurate or not. To this end, the Minority suggests that ``senior Executive Branch officials'' disagreed with my July 8 statement. As the Minority Members must know, since most of them were there, the same officials confirmed the accuracy of the July 8 statement during the July 28 hearing, particularly regarding whether the information then available suggested that the 1996 Presidential race might have been affected by Chinese efforts toinfluence our electoral process. It is safe to say that the July 28 hearing was confusing, for reasons that became clear at a September 11, 1997 briefing attended (and called) by those same senior Executive Branch officials.3 At the September 11 briefing, one senior Executive Branch official reconfirmed the accuracy of my July 8 statement, and explained that the earlier confusion was largely a matter of semantics. Questions posed at the July 28 session generally asked whether there was any ``evidence'' regarding certain matters, and such questions elicited answers in the negative.4 The official explained that he had construed ``evidence'' narrowly to include only proof which would be admissible during a court proceeding.5 When asked questions more broadly about ``all the information and circumstances,'' the official gave quite different answers, and observed that the July 8 statement was reasonable and accurate.6 --------------------------------------------------------------------------- \3\ The Minority mistakenly calls the September 11 gathering a hearing. It was not. The senior Executive Branch officials called the meeting at their own behest in order to share with the Committee some significant information about a leading figure in the campaign finance investigation. The briefing was not transcribed, and in hindsight, I am sorry it was not. \4\ See, e.g., Minority Report, Chapter Two, section ``Political Contributions to Federal Elections.'' \5\ Closed Committee Briefing, September 11, 1997. \6\ Id. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- As early as July 1997, Minority Members ``acknowledge[d], and never denied, that the information shown to us strongly suggested the existence of a plan by the Chinese Government-- containing components both legal and illegal--designed to influence U.S. congressional elections.' 7 At the same time, significant contributions to the DNC and, to a lesser extent, other campaigns, including Republican causes, were being made or solicited by individuals who have ties to the PRC government. One would think that this sequence of events would have engaged the curiosity of the Minority more fully. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- \7\ Joint Statement by Senators John Glenn and Joseph Lieberman, July 15, 1997. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------