5 House chairmen seek files removed from Commerce Ex-official took them to another U.S. agency

Huang is not involved

November 23, 1996|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A dispute over whether political connections influenced the Clinton administration's trade policy escalated yesterday, with senior Republicans demanding that the White House release a raft of sensitive documents removed from the Commerce Department by an outgoing official.

The White House has refused to let Congress see some of the documents and has warned it might assert executive privilege to protect them. This is a rarely used device that allows presidents to keep certain communications secret.

Not related to Huang

From what is now known, the documents have little connection to the questions swirling around the Democratic fund-raising activities of John Huang. But congressional investigators say they want access to the documents to find out whether actual links exist to the Huang controversy.

The Republican chairmen of five House committees, in a letter yesterday, said: "The possible secreting of documents by the Commerce Department is relevant to a number of investigations." They challenged the administration to take the step of asserting executive privilege formally and to justify it for each document.

Jack Quinn, the White House counsel, did not return a call seeking comment yesterday. But Alan Kreszko, a lawyer for the National Security Council, where many of the documents originated, said in a memo Nov. 13 that the documents had to be kept under wraps because some of them included confidential foreign policy and national security communications.

Preserving such confidentiality, he wrote, is essential to preserve "candid and thorough debate" within the administration.

In an interview Thursday, Kreszko took a more conciliatory tone, saying the administration would negotiate with Congress if the committees approached the White House directly.

Taken to 2nd agency

The discovery of the papers, now at the Small Business Administration, has broadened a congressional investigation triggered last month by the disclosure of campaign donations to Democrats by foreign business interests.

Now the House Small Business Committee, prompted by a publicly released index of the material in the Commerce Department files, is delving into how the administration developed new policies on exporting encryption technology, which protects computer communications.

These policies hold national security importance. They also affect sales opportunities for American companies that could reach into the billions of dollars.

Craig Orfield, a spokesman for the Small Business Committee, indicated that the panel's staff was interested in determining whether politics influenced how the administration made encryption policy. "We will not rule that angle out," he said.

The dispute over the documents marks a new twist in the furor surrounding Huang, the former fund-raiser who raised millions of dollars for Democrats after leaving the Commerce Department this year.

His role has raised questions of whether his former employers, the Riady family of Indonesia and their business empire, the Lippo Group, had any effect on administration policy.

President Clinton has acknowledged having discussed policy matters at the White House with James T. Riady, son of the Lippo founder but has stoutly denied that the family influenced any administration policy.

In a related development yesterday, the Democratic National Committee announced that it was returning one of its biggest donations -- $450,000 from the Indonesian couple Arief and Soraya Wiriadinata. Her late father was a partner in the Lippo group.

Conservative lawsuit

The removal of the documents from Commerce Department came to public attention in a lawsuit by Judicial Watch, a conservative nonprofit group that is investigating whether the agency under the late Secretary Ronald H. Brown rewarded companies that donated generously to the Democratic Party.

In the course of their demand for documents from the department, Judicial Watch discovered that Ira Sockowitz, a political appointee, had taken a stack of files when he moved to the Small Business Administration this summer. These included some documents classified as secret.

Sockowitz resigned from the SBA last week. In an interview yesterday, he said he took the papers because he expected to be working on some of the same issues at SBA, where he served as assistant to his previous boss at Commerce. He insisted that he did not knowingly violate any law or regulation covering how to maintain classified material.

While at the Commerce Department , Sockowitz acquired a security clearance. He declined to say what information he had access to, but experts say the clearance entitles an official to see sensitive secrets, including intelligence gathered by the National Security Agency based at Fort Meade.

Pub Date: 11/23/96

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