FBI Sparks Fund-Raising Debate
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The FBI’s admission Friday that it belatedly found information relevant to campaign fund raising rekindled debates over its investigation and allegations of a Chinese plot to influence U.S. elections.
Meanwhile, a donor who brought Chinese businessmen to the White House a day after delivering a $50,000 check made out to the Democratic Party talked to House investigators. Johnny Chung answered questions behind closed doors without being put under oath to protect his Fifth Amendment protection against giving sworn testimony.
The FBI acknowledged that it provided the counterintelligence information to Senate campaign fund-raising investigators last Friday following a two-month search of its files for more material bearing on the alleged China plot.
But the FBI said much of the information ``consists of raw, uncorroborated intelligence that requires significant analysis before the information is appropriate for dissemination.″
Nevertheless, Attorney General Janet Reno apologized last week to the chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., about the delay in furnishing the information.
The Justice Department said in a statement that Reno had ordered the agency’s inspector general to investigate ``why the information was not properly transmitted within the FBI.″
Had it been known, the information would have been given immediately to congressional committees and prosecutors investigating campaign fund raising, the department said.
Reno ordered Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder ``to ensure that any remaining relevant information is gathered by the FBI.″
Thompson’s spokesman, Paul Clark, said the information ``certainly is a vindication″ of Thompson’s statement at the outset of Senate hearings last summer that the FBI had evidence of a Chinese plot to buy influence in the American political system.
Clark said it provides further support for the need for an independent counsel to investigate the campaign fund-raising abuses. ``It is difficult for an administration to investigate itself when information such as this isn’t weighed in a timely fashion,″ Clark said.
But Democrats, who have long challenged Thompson’s description of the FBI’s intelligence, said the latest information did not add much to the story.
Thompson ``still lacks proof for his earlier allegations regarding China’s influence on American elections,″ said Jim Jordan, spokesman for Democrats on the panel that investigated campaign fund-raising abuses.
Jordan said the new information was ``hardly probative or of enormous importance.″
Any decision to seek an independent counsel ``must be based on legal and factual determinations and should be free from this type of inappropriate political pressure,″ Jordan said.
The House’s chief investigator, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., complained he was not notified of the information until Thursday night _ more than a week after it’s discovery.
``There should truly be some heads rolled over this,″ Burton said. ``The attorney general and Mr. Freeh need to come to the Congress of the United States and explain their actions,″ said Burton, chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.
Justice Department spokesman Bert Brandenburg said the FBI offered three times this week to brief Burton’s staff about ``new information″ but was rebuffed because committee aides said they were too busy preparing for hearings.
FBI officials were scheduled to brief Burton’s committee on Friday.
The information was produced as a result of a stepped-up search of FBI files in September after it became apparent they still might contain information bearing on the alleged plot by the Chinese government to funnel money into U.S. political campaigns, said Senate aides and an FBI official.
Freeh also forced into retirement a unit chief at headquarters who was supervising the gathering of counterintelligence on the matter and brought in a high-level official to oversee that effort, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Among the pieces of information unearthed was a report that Democratic fund-raiser Maria Hsia had dealt with the Chinese government, said people familiar with the FBI probe who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But the information did not directly tie Hsia’s dealings with China to political fund raising, said one source.
An immigration consultant, Hsia has helped Chinese people immigrate or get visas to travel to this country, said her lawyer, Nancy Luque, who added she wasn’t surprised that Hsia’s name turned up in ``raw intelligence″ files.
``Someone who traveled to China as much as she did and spoke on the phone with people in China as much as she did is bound to catch the eye of people who are paid to watch such things. I firmly believe it’s no more than that.′
Chung, meantime, spent more than three hours behind closed doors, providing information informally.
``The information, we think, will be helpful. We will pursue those leads,″ Burton said.