Huang phoned foreign employer near times of intelligence meetings
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A key figure in the controversy over foreign-linked donations to the Democrats telephoned his former Indonesian employer several times during a period in which he was receiving classified intelligence briefings as a federal official, documents show.
John Huang had pledged to steer clear of the previous employer, the Lippo Group.
In all, Huang’s calendars list 37 meetings with the intelligence liaison officer for the Commerce Department during the 18 months he worked as a senior official at the department. Telephone records show at least three calls to his former company on the same days as the briefings.
The Associated Press obtained Huang’s telephone messages and calendar records from government officials, and confirmed the identity of the intelligence liaison officer with the department.
In several other instances, Huang’s records show phone calls to Lippo within a few days before or after intelligence briefings.
When he took his Commerce post in July 1994, the Chinese-born Huang promised not to have any involvement with Lippo. Revelations last fall that Huang made dozens of phone calls to Lippo’s California bank during the time he was in government have prompted Republicans to investigate whether he used his position to benefit the Indonesian banking and real estate conglomerate.
Investigators’ interest is further heightened by the fact that Huang got a top-secret security clearance six months before starting his government job _ and without the usual full background security investigation.
Huang has broadly denied wrongdoing but has yet to explain the nature of his contacts with his former employer while he held the high-level job in the trade and economic policy area.
His attorneys did not return calls Wednesday and Thursday seeking comment on the matter.
Since Huang emerged in the fund-raising controversy because large donations he solicited last year had to be returned due to suspicions they came from illegal foreign sources, Commerce’s own internal investigators have been reviewing his conduct at the department. Huang left Commerce a year ago to become a Democratic fund-raiser.
Diane Poon, a spokeswoman for Lippo Bank of California in Los Angeles, said the bank had no knowledge of the nature of Huang’s phone contacts.
In a related development, a Commerce Department memo released Thursday under the Freedom of Information Act showed that the Democratic National Committee asked the White House to consider inviting several big donors to events with President Clinton at a 1994 trade summit in Indonesia.
Vida Benavides, the party’s director of Asian affairs, gave Clinton aide Doris Matsui a list of 13 ``strong supporters to the President and the Democratic Party.″
The list included several individuals at the center of the fund-raising controversy.
The White House could not confirm whether the donors were invited to any events attended by Clinton at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, an official said. Matsui, who has been the subject of questions about whether she solicited contributions from Asian-Americans, took no action on the memo, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Matsui did not return a phone call.
The Commerce Department said senior officials in international areas might well have regular contact with the intelligence officer. The officer serves as a link between the department and the CIA and other intelligence agencies and can provide sensitive intelligence information such as political and economic assessments to officials who have the proper security clearances.
``It’s not unusual that he (Huang) would have been in these meetings,″ department spokeswoman Maria Cardona said, adding that a likely area of intelligence information for Huang was Taiwan.
Citing the AP story, the chairman of the House Rules Committee sent a blistering letter to President Clinton on Thursday accusing the Commerce Department of withholding information about the intelligence officer.
Rep. Gerald B. Solomon, R-N.Y., said he requested information last November about one of the Huang intelligence meetings but the agency ``neither mentioned ... nor identified″ that the man was an intelligence officer.
Huang raised an estimated $3.4 million for Clinton and the Democrats in last year’s election campaigns. The Democratic National Committee fired him in mid-November as part of what it called a large-scale ``downsizing″ after the elections.
Lippo, whose U.S.-based executives have been major contributors to Clinton and the Democrats, has close business ties to the Chinese government.
Huang’s Commerce Department phone records show he called Lippo Bank of California in Los Angeles, where he formerly was president, chief operating officer and vice chairman, on March 22, May 12 and Sept. 19, 1995, days on which his calendars list meetings with the intelligence officer.
Soon after the November 1992 election, Huang wrote to a Clinton transition team official saying he and fellow Lippo executive Charles De Queljoe both were interested in jobs in the new administration and that De Queljoe was seeking a position with the National Security Council, State Department or Commerce Department.
Commerce Department officials have not explained why Huang needed his top-secret security clearance six months before he began his government job. They have said a full security background check of Huang wasn’t necessary because the personal information he provided could be verified without one.
Huang, 50, was born in China, grew up in Taiwan and served in Taiwan’s air force. He became a U.S. citizen in 1976.
House aides have noted that by 1993 Lippo had sold 50 percent of its holdings in Hong Kong Chinese Bank _ where Huang was vice president in 1985-86 _ to China Resources Holding Co., a corporation run by the Chinese government.