Top Justice Department officials have decided that the FBI should interview contributors to the Democratic National Committee. It's the first clear sign that the department sees potential criminal misconduct in questionable campaign donations.
According to senior officials, the Justice Department is particularly interested in allegations that donors illegally made contributions using other people's money. Allegations of potential misconduct by John Huang, the former Democratic fund-raiser, will probably be vigorously pursued, the officials said.
Although Attorney General Janet Reno will make the decisions on whether to begin steps to seek an independent counsel or whether FBI agents will be sent out, senior department officials have concluded "that some of the allegations need to be investigated more fully," a department official said Friday night. For the past several weeks, Justice Department lawyers have been reviewing allegations about questionable political donations uncovered in the past two months. But until now, department officials have not indicated whether the department would conduct its own investigation. Friday, the Democratic National Committee announced it is returning as "inappropriate" $450,000 in donations from an Indonesian husband and wife because they did not file federal tax returns for 1995. The refund is the largest to date and brings to nearly $1.5 million the amount the party has given back to donors since late September. The Huang Connection The checks from Arief and Soraya Wiriadinata were among the first questioned in newspaper accounts because the amount they gave was so large, because the couple had left the country, and because the woman's late father was an investor in the Lippo Group, the Indonesian financial conglomerate that once employed Huang. Like almost all the money the Democrats have returned, the Wiriadinatas' contributions were largely solicited by Huang. The Democratic committee said it had been unable to contact the Wir iadinatas in Indonesia and must assume the couple has not filed late tax returns. …