Hillary friend got donation from Chung, arranged Commerce meeting
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A friend of Hillary Rodham Clinton obtained a donation of about $25,000 from Democratic contributor Johnny Chung for a group attacking Whitewater investigators and then arranged a meeting for Chung at the Commerce Department, lawyers familiar with the matter said Friday.
Chung, an international businessman, wanted the meeting set up on behalf of one of his Chinese business contacts, said one of the lawyers, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Current White House aide Lynn Cutler received the donation from Chung to the Back to Business Committee at the end of 1995 or early in 1996 in the midst of Sen. Alfonse D’Amato’s Senate Whitewater investigation, said the lawyers.
Presidential aides acknowledged Chung’s contribution after The Associated Press informed the White House the news organization was preparing a story disclosing his donation.
Chung is a major figure in the current campaign fund-raising controversy because he hand-delivered a $50,000 check for the Democratic Party to Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff, Margaret Williams, inside the White House in 1995. The incident wasn’t disclosed until this year.
Clinton aides for months have brushed aside questions about whether major figures in the campaign fund-raising controversy such as James Riady, John Huang, Charlie Trie and Chung donated to various private groups which are supportive of the Clintons. The private groups are not legally required to disclose who gives them money.
``We understand that Mr. Chung contributed to the Back to Business Committee,″ said a White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
``In response to the question about whether Ms. Cutler arranged a meeting for Mr. Chung at the Department of Commerce, we understand that Ms. Cutler arranged such a meeting, that Mr. Chung ultimately did not meet with Secretary (Ron) Brown, but that he met with a department official,″ the White House official added.
White House aide Ann Lewis started the Back to Business Committee in 1994 when she worked for a political consulting firm. Cutler, director of intergovernmental affairs at the White House, ran the committee in 1995 and 1996.
At the time the Back to Business Committee was created, Lewis announced that all donations would be disclosed. After Lewis left the committee, Cutler, a friend of the first lady and a former Democratic National Committee official, refused to identify donors, saying only that the group raised money from ``friends″ and spent about $15,000 a month.
The committee eagerly publicized the major political names associated with it, including former House Majority Whip Tony Coelho, former New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio, former Dukakis campaign manager Susan Estrich and Carter administration officials Jody Powell, Anne Wexler and Andrew Young.
The Back to Business Committee collected and spent an undisclosed amount of money attacking Senate Republicans who were zeroing in on the first lady’s role in Whitewater.
The World Wide Web site for Cutler’s Back to Business Committee told computer users they could ``find out that Whitewater is nothing more than a partisan witch hunt orchestrated by the Republican Party and paid for by U.S. taxpayers.″
Chung, a U.S. citizen born in Taiwan, parlayed $366,000 in contributions to the Democratic National Committee into 51 visits to the White House in less than three years. All the money was returned this year because of questions about its origins.
Chung told the Los Angeles Times recently, ``I see the White House as like a subway _ you have to put in coins to open the gates.″
Chung ``often sort of hung around the anteroom of the first lady’s office″ and apparently tried ``to portray himself as someone who had greater influence than the facts would allow,″ White House spokesman Mike McCurry said earlier this year.
Chung passed his $50,000 donation to Mrs. Clinton’s chief of staff during a three-day period when Chung was showing a delegation of Chinese businessmen _ executives in government-owned industries _ around Washington. Chung took the group into the president’s radio address. Chung had his picture taken at various times with the president and the first lady.
While the Back to Business Committee is rebuffing requests to identify its donors, Republicans are taking a political beating from Democrats for disclosing details about a private think tank that worked closely with the Republican National Committee.
After a Hong Kong company put up money as collateral, the National Policy Forum sent to the RNC hundreds of thousands of dollars from a U.S. bank loan in partial payment of a debt during the heat of the 1994 congressional election campaign.