GOP Miscues Threaten Fund-Raising Probe

By Klayman, Larry | Insight on the News, August 18, 1997 | Go to article overview

GOP Miscues Threaten Fund-Raising Probe


Klayman, Larry, Insight on the News


The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearings on campaign fund-raising should have been a big step toward bringing to light the complete web of the Clinton administration's campaign-finance illegalities. Since last fall, Judicial Watch's ongoing lawsuit against the Clinton Commerce Department has proved that the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, the White House and the Democratic National Committee, or DNC, conspired to sell seats on trade missions for large political contributions, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 5600 of the U.S. Criminal Code.

Yet, in contrast to the media frenzy that erupted in October when Judicial Watch exposed former Commerce official John Huang's illegal fund-raising, the press has snoozed through these hearings, and the investigation may turn out to be a spectacular disappointment -- unless Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Fred Thompson and his Republican colleagues make progress quickly.

The Republican majority on the committee has no one to blame but itself. It has been ill-prepared and disorganized in setting the stage for the hearings. It took far too long to issue subpoenas, allowing witnesses to flee the country, the staff has yet to complete the private preliminary questioning of key remaining witnesses; and the remaining testimony may be tainted, since witnesses can tailor their remarks by listening to witnesses who already have appeared before the committee.

Thompson's troubles, of course, are not all of his own making. Democrats on Capitol Hill and in the White House are determined to prevent the truth from surfacing. The Republicans, including Thompson, may have misjudged just how skilled and determined the Democrats' cover-up machine is.

Even the mundane matter of the choice of the first witness -- DNC Finance Chairman Richard Sullivan -- is a telling example of the disarray. Republicans began by inexplicably praising Sullivan for his character and honesty before even beginning to question him. After a day of listening to a nervous and hesitant witness give reluctant and obviously contrived responses to their questions, Republicans were forced to confront Sullivan -- their own witness -- with contradictory testimony he had given earlier. This became a pattern: Republicans ludicrously would praise witnesses who turned out to be, at a minimum, forgetful and dishonest.

As is true with opening statements in a trial -- where 90 percent of jurors reach their verdict before the first witness is called-the beginning of a Senate hearing is crucial, since a congressional proceeding depends on positive public relations for success. An advocate will lose the "jury" -- in this case the American public -- if it fails to start out strong and make the case simply and forcefully

By the end of the second week Republicans became better prepared and organized, but they were again out of witnesses and did not know where to go from there. In a bizarre twist, they were forced to turn the proceedings over to the Democrats to investigate Republican fund-raising practices.

The hearings should have begun with Commerce Department witnesses, who would have explained Huang's involvement in illegal activities in conjunction with Brown, the White House and the DNC. …

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