Gingrich wants panel to probe donations, China satellite deal Speaker's plan could shift control of funding inquiry from besieged Dan Burton

May 20, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Newt Gingrich said yesterday that he will seek approval for a special committee to investigate whether campaign donations -- some of them linked to the Chinese military -- led the Clinton administration to approve the export of sensitive missile technology to China.

For Gingrich, the committee could prove to be a stroke of political genius. It would shift control of the key elements of the House's campaign finance inquiry away from discredited Rep. Dan Burton to a hand-picked committee that can move the spotlight back to allegations of Democratic abuses.

Gingrich insisted yesterday that defusing the distractions of Burton's investigation was not part of the calculation.

"This has nothing to do with campaign finance," Gingrich said. "This has to do with the national security of the United States and an effort by a foreign military to penetrate our military system, an effort by some people to give the Chinese secrets in violation of American law."

The panel's five Republicans and three Democrats would be led by Rep. Christopher Cox, a respected California Republican. Gingrich said he hopes the House will approve the panel after Memorial Day and that it will begin meeting in mid-June.

Burton immediately offered not only his support, but also the help of his investigative staff, which has been pursuing foreign links to Democratic campaign contributions for over a year.

After weeks of partisan procedural bickering, the campaign finance investigation found its footing Friday after the New York Times reported that Johnny Chung, a Democratic fund-raiser, told the Justice Department that he had funneled tens of thousands of dollars from a Chinese military officer to President Clinton's re-election campaign.

That information dovetailed with allegations that Clinton had granted a waiver to allow Loral Space and Communications Ltd. to sell missile technology to China after that company's chief executive, Bernard Schwartz, donated $566,000 to the Democrats. Loral and another aerospace company, Hughes Electronics Corp., exported satellites to China to be launched atop Chinese rockets. Both companies have denied any wrongdoing, as have the State Department and Pentagon.

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said yesterday, "In no circumstance do we believe that the policy of allowing China to launch American satellites is, ipso facto, providing China technology that will enhance their capabilities. This policy was developed during past administrations."

Burton's committee had been trying to take testimony from four alleged witnesses of campaign finance improprieties, two of whom are directly linked to Chung. Democrats had blocked immunity for those four witnesses, insisting that the investigation be removed from Burton's control.

That put Gingrich in the delicate position of wanting to shift the investigation to another committee without appearing to cave in to Democratic demands. The Chung testimony has given him the chance to say that the shift is unrelated to negative publicity from Burton's investigation.

"This a deeper question than anything that has arisen before in this administration," Gingrich said. "If our ability to deal with nuclear weapons and ballistic weapons are not at the heart of how you defend this country, I can't imagine what would be."

Even Democrats have expressed concern about the recent revelations. Philip M. Schiliro, the chief of staff to Rep. Henry A. Waxman, the top Democrat on Burton's committee, said if it is true that campaign donations funneled through the Chinese military led to the export of missile technology, it could be considered treason.

The Justice Department ferreted out the information and should be allowed to continue its investigation unfettered by congressional meddling, Schiliro said, even though so far, there is no corroboration of Chung's allegation.

Pub Date: 5/20/98

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