- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Sen. Mitch McConnell has returned a $2,000 campaign contribution given to him in 1989 by John Huang, a onetime Lippo bank official and Democratic fund-raiser, after the senator's office discovered the money may have been an illegal contribution.

"The moment Senator McConnell heard of evidence that Huang's 1989 contribution might have been illegally reimbursed, he ordered his staff to determine whether Huang had, in fact, stated under oath that he had been unlawfully reimbursed for the contribution," Hunter Bates, Mr. McConnell's chief of staff, said yesterday.

"Based on the information he had received by Thursday morning, Senator McConnell forwarded Huang's contribution to the U.S. Treasury's Bureau of Public Debt."

Mr. Bates said the donation was made "two elections ago" and years "before there was any hint of suspicion surrounding Huang's political activity."

The money was returned by the senator, Kentucky Republican, after syndicated columnist Robert Novak reported that Huang was reimbursed by Indonesia's Lippo Group.

Huang disclosed the illegal donation under oath Nov. 6 as part of a deposition in a lawsuit brought by Judicial Watch, a conservative public interest law firm.

Huang pleaded guilty in 1999 to violating campaign-finance laws. He was a central figure in the campaign-finance scandal that involved secret efforts by China to influence the 1996 U.S. elections.

Several conservative political-action groups have raised questions about connections, if any, between the Huang contribution and Mr. McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, President Bush's nominee for labor secretary. Huang mentioned her in a deposition as having helped raise campaign contributions from Asian-Americans.

Mrs. Chao, a native of Taiwan, will testify at her confirmation hearing today before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

A Republican committee source said he does not expect Republican senators to raise the matter because they believe the Bush transition team vetted the matter with Mrs. Chao before she was named.

According to the deposition, Huang said he met Mrs. Chao at a 1989 Los Angeles fund-raiser. He declined to answer other questions posed by Judicial Watch. A Bush administration spokesman said last night that Mrs. Chao said she had no recollection of meeting Huang.

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