Clinton discussed Asia policy with donor President says meetings did not affect decisions

November 16, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton acknowledged in an interview that he twice discussed policy about Indonesia and China with James Riady, the Indonesian financier, Democratic contributor and longtime friend of Clinton who is at the center of several inquiries into the influence of foreign money in Washington.

In a 30-minute interview in the Oval Office on Thursday evening, Clinton said Riady had never influenced policy decisions. But he also said it had been a mistake for the Democratic National Committee to send John Huang, a former employee of Riady, and until last year a mid-level Commerce Department official, to Taiwan to raise money for the 1996 campaigns.

Huang's visit came several months after Clinton sent two aircraft carriers to protect Taiwan from Chinese military harassment earlier this year, and speculation has surfaced that he sought to capitalize on Clinton's action to protect the island nation.

"I would have counseled against that," Clinton said of the trip, adding that he did not know about Huang's foreign venture before it took place.

Clinton's description of his relationship with Riady was his first detailed response to accusations of influence peddling and improper campaign contributions that flared in the last weeks of the campaign. A month ago, the White House described Riady's visits as purely social. Later it corrected that to suggest some general discussion of China took place.

Yesterday, hours before Clinton left for Hawaii, Australia and a summit meeting of Asian leaders in Manila, the White House released a flood of details about visits to the White House by Riady, Huang and others involved in the inquiries by the Justice Department and on Capitol Hill.

The information, mostly about entry logs kept by the Secret Service, was released as part of the administration's effort to quell questions of possible improprieties. The logs, the White House said, suggest that most of the visits were for briefings, receptions or meetings with mid-level officials with little connection to Asian policy issues.

But the White House also said that at a meeting between Clinton, Riady and Huang in September 1995, Huang said he could better serve the president by leaving the Commerce Department for the Democratic National Committee. He did exactly that three months later, and solicited several major donations the Democrats have since had to return because of suspicions that they came from foreign sources.

A bit more than a week after his decisive defeat of Bob Dole, and with the benefit of time to reflect on how he will deal with Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress, the president seemed somewhat sardonic when he turned the discussion to Republican fund raising. He was irked that contributions to the opposing party have "escaped scrutiny."

Pub Date: 11/16/96

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