- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2000

A top Justice Department official ordered federal prosecutors just before the 1996 presidential election to stop an investigation into suspected illegal fund raising by Vice President Al Gore at a California Buddhist temple.
Lee J. Radek, head of the department's Office of Public Integrity, said in a secret Nov. 1, 1996, cease-and-desist order that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles "should take no steps to investigate these matters at this time."
Justice Department actions in the case, including the timing of the Radek letter, are now the focus of congressional investigators, The Washington Times has learned.
"OK, so maybe nothing would have saved the Dole-Kemp ticket in 1996, but [President] Clinton and Gore didn't know that and they couldn't take the chance," said a Senate investigator, who requested anonymity. "Hence, Radek's secret letter to the prosecutors telling them, 'Don't do anything, because we're going to do it,' when Justice had no intention of doing anything with Bill or Al."
A House investigator, who also asked that he not be named, noted that the Radek letter went out 10 days after accusations first surfaced about questionable campaign donations by Asian-Americans to the Democratic National Committee, including hundreds of thousands of dollars from John Huang, who helped arrange the temple event.
He said that had the Los Angeles probe leaked so close to election, the media "would have had a field day."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen A. Mansfield immediately shut down the probe after the Radek letter and, according to federal authorities, turned over evidence in the case to officials at Justice in Washington. The letter said that since outside counsel might be named, the inquiry would have to stop.
No independent counsel was ever sought.
Mr. Gore later was cleared of any wrongdoing by Attorney General Janet Reno, who had been lobbied by Mr. Radek not to seek outside counsel because the facts did not support a successful prosecution. After the Los Angeles probe was terminated, several key figures involved in the temple fund-raising scheme fled the country.
The existence of the Radek letter was first reported by the New York Times.
Justice Department spokesman Myron Marlin said Miss Reno's decision in the Gore inquiry was based "on the facts and the law without regard to politics."
Department officials have said it was appropriate to bring the Gore investigation to Washington since the case had "independent counsel ramifications" meaning the vice president was a covered person under the Independent Counsel Act. They said the letter was sent by Mr. Radek at a time Miss Reno was considering a congressional request to seek the appointment of an independent counsel.
Last year, Mr. Radek was criticized by four FBI agents assigned to the campaign finance task force, who told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee he sought to impede or delay the task force probe even blocking efforts to obtain a search warrant to stop what they said was the destruction of evidence by Democratic fund-raiser Charles Yah Lin Trie.
Agents Ivian C. Smith, Daniel Wehr, Roberta Parker and Kevin Sheridan told the panel they were stopped from executing the warrant at Trie's Little Rock, Ark., office after they discovered that financial, business and travel records were being destroyed.
Mr. Smith, former agent in charge of the Little Rock office, later told FBI Director Louis J. Freeh in a letter that "the team at [the Justice Department] leading this investigation is, at best, simply not up to the task."
Mrs. Parker, a 15-year veteran agent and also a lawyer, said in an affidavit that Trie's assistant had "shredded or torn" several documents "into small pieces by use of hand shears or some other manual cutting device."
She said the records included check records for his firm, Daihatsu International Trading Co.; a statement from the Bank of China in Macao; travel records for a Chinese financier who wired $1 million into his bank account; deposit slips and wire-transfers; and a Federal Express package showing that 2 pounds of records were sent by the White House to him on May 5, 1997.
Later, another trash search found photocopies of canceled checks to the president's legal defense fund, each for $1,000 and dated in 1996.
Mr. Radek and Laura Ingersoll, a department lawyer named to direct the task force, argued against the warrant, saying the checks were "not responsive" to an existing grand jury subpoena, only to one issued in March 1997 by the Senate committee.
The warrant was approved in October 1997, four months after the agents first requested it. By then, Miss Ingersoll had been replaced by Charles G. LaBella.
In 1998, Mr. LaBella urged Miss Reno to seek outside counsel to probe suspected campaign abuses by Mr. Gore. He said Mr. Gore, Mr. Clinton, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes engaged in "a pattern of conduct worthy of investigation."
The LaBella report, first made public by the Los Angeles Times, also accused Justice Department officials of "gamesmanship" and "contortions" in an effort to block an independent probe. An independent counsel in the case also had been sought by Mr. Freeh.
Trie, a leading contributor to Democrats in 1996 and to Mr. Clinton's legal defense fund, pleaded guilty to making false statements to the Federal Election Commission and making political donations in the names of others. Facing five years in prison, he was sentenced to probation.
The examination of the Buddhist temple event eventually led to the indictment last year of Maria Hsia, a California immigration consultant who served as a key Gore fund-raiser for more than 10 years.
Hsia was convicted March 2 by a federal jury in Washington on five felony counts of concealing the source of $109,000 donated after the temple event.
She was accused of hiding "the true sources of thousands of dollars of illegal contributions she solicited" from the Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, Calif., for the Democratic Party and the 1996 Clinton-Gore Re-election Committee. Sentencing is pending.
The temple was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the illegal reimbursement to monks and nuns of about $65,000 in DNC donations considered "conduit" payments, meaning that those listed as donors were illegally reimbursed.
Although the Hsia probe continued into 1999, the FBI never asked Mr. Gore about the temple event in three interviews in 1997 and 1998. Mr. Gore said he knew the event was "finance-related" since top Asian-American donors would be present, but did not know donations would be sought.

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