Thickening tale of tainted money Clinton defense fund: Contributions of $639,000 from president's friend returned.

December 18, 1996

HOW CONVENIENT! Lawyers for the Clinton legal defense fund knew months ago that a Chinese American friend of the president had contributed $639,000 in donations so dubious they had to be returned. But this information was withheld until six weeks after the election. Michael H. Cardozo, fund director, said the delay had nothing to do with politics. Of course not.

With the press chock full of late-campaign disclosures about tainted money from Asian sources pouring into the Democratic National Committee, Mr. Cardozo explained that he wanted to avoid any "inaccurate report" about the defense fund. Such dedication to accuracy in journalism is truly touching.

It has also been revealed that two weeks after Little Rock businessman Charles Yah Lin Trie gave his first batch of money to Mr. Cardozo last March, he was appointed to a presidential commission on Asian trade. Lanny Davis, a Marylander recently named special counsel to the president, said "that the idea there was a cause and effect between the money and the appointment is ridiculous." Yes, just ridiculous.

The fact is that Mr. and Mrs. Clinton need money -- lots of money -- to pay off more than $2 million in legal costs stemming from Whitewater-related transactions and the Paula Jones sexual harassment case. They set up a defense fund with the stipulation that no more than $1,000 could come from any one person.

Mr. Trie's apparent way around this stricture was to give Mr. Cardozo stacks of checks and money orders (many in sequential order) carrying the names of different persons who happened to have the same handwriting. It was then that first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton advised Mr. Cardozo to be "scrupulous" in sending the money back. Accumulated interest from deposits, however, was evidently retained.

Money also came in to the defense fund from a Buddhist cult that should not be confused with the Buddhist temple that gave to the DNC during an Al Gore campaign appearance.

As the tangle thickens, it seems that Mr. Trie, like members of the Indonesian banking conglomerate that secured a Commerce Department and DNC post for one of its officials, was generous in giving to various Democratic causes, including the party organization.

This latest disclosure can have its uses if it adds to public outrage over the corruption of a political money system gone haywire.

Pub Date: 12/18/96

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