Monday, March 6, 2000

A federal grand jury last week convicted Al Gore’s longtime bagwoman, Maria Hsia, of five felony counts for her illegal actions in the Democratic Party’s 1996 campaign-finance scandal. At least $65,000 of the $100,000 she handed John Huang the day after Mr. Gore attended the notorious, illegal April 1996 fund-raiser at a California Buddhist temple involved illegal “conduit” payments from “straw donors” Buddhist monks and nuns. Huang happened to be vice chairman of finance for the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The monks and nuns were illegally reimbursed by the temple, which was named by prosecutors as a an unindicted co-conspirator.
According to Attorney General Janet Reno’s Justice Department, which prosecuted the case, the nation’s campaign-finance laws weren’t the only things violated. The Clinton Justice Department has repeatedly portrayed the president, the vice president, their re-election committee and the Democratic Party as mere victims unknowing dupes of unscrupulous fund-raisers and contributors, including not only Hsia but also Charlie Trie, John Huang, Johnny Chung, Yogesh Gandhi, the Wiriadinata family, etc. Meanwhile, Miss Reno has steadfastly rejected recommendations from the likes of New York Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Clinton-appointed FBI Director Louis Freeh and Charles La Bella, the respected prosecutor she appointed to head her department’s campaign-finance task force, to seek the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate the roles of President Clinton and Vice President Gore in the scandal.
Known throughout the 1996 campaign as “Solicitor-in-Chief,” a role he zealously pursued, Mr. Gore had become so steeped in the sludge that he has shamelessly adopted the Clinton tactic of parsing words and phrases to deflect the implications of the evidence and his actions. Mr. Gore introduced the phrase, “no controlling legal authority,” to the political lexicon to absolve himself of making illegal campaign telephone solicitations from the White House. Miss Reno initially claimed that Mr. Gore had only been raising “soft money” with those calls, a permissible practice she concluded. But when the press offered evidence that Mr. Gore raised hundreds of thousands of dollars of “hard money” contributions with his White House calls, Miss Reno simply disregarded incriminating documents revealing that Mr. Gore had attended meetings at which his hard-money White House solicitations were discussed. In the Buddhist temple fiasco, Mr. Gore initially claimed he attended the temple luncheon as a “community outreach” event. As evidence mounted to the contrary, including White House memos identifying the event as a fund-raiser, Mr. Gore allowed that it may have been “finance-related” and his attendance may have been in the realm of “donor maintenance.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Gore continues to deny that he knew the luncheon was a fund-raiser. Yet, as Fortune magazine convincingly reported earlier this year, Mr. Gore’s longtime relationship with Hsia was such that “Gore saw green whenever he saw Hsia.” Ten years ago, when Mr. Gore was running for re-election to the Senate, he implored her to help him refill his coffers after his unsuccessful 1988 presidential run. She raised money for the Tennessee senator in California and organized Asian-Americans for him in Tennessee. In December 1990, the month after he won re-election to the Senate, Mr. Gore told Hsia in two personal notes that she had “helped make this campaign season an overwhelming success” and that “your friendship and your personal commitment to my political endeavors mean a great deal to me.” If the White House memos and Hsia’s presence at the luncheon were not a tip-off that it was a fund-raiser, perhaps the presence of the DNC chairman, Huang and two other senior Democratic money men, should have made clear to the vice president that money was about to change hands. Or perhaps it should have been the unmistakable references to fund-raising that emanated from the podium.
Mr. Gore’s continued insistence that he did not know the Buddhist Temple luncheon was a fund-raiser an illegal one, given the temple’s tax-exempt status is so unbelievable that only Janet Reno could pretend to believe it. Once voters see the inevitable political ad showing a videotape of Mr. Gore happily frolicking with his trusted, longtime bagwoman at the luncheon, they will be able to make their own judgments about Mr. Gore’s status as unwitting victim.

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