FBI papers reveal details of Trie fund raising

False identity was used to sneak businessman into the White House

February 06, 2000|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Newly obtained FBI documents show that Democratic fund-raiser Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie smuggled a wealthy Taiwanese businessman using a false identity into the White House to meet President Clinton.

The incident is among numerous revelations in a confidential summary of Trie's statements to federal investigators that are certain to reverberate during election-year debate over campaign finance abuses.

The episode, regarded as a serious breach of presidential security by federal officials, occurred at a White House holiday party Dec. 13, 1996 -- days before Trie fled the United States to avoid authorities investigating fund-raising improprieties.

Trie, a former Arkansas restaurateur and friend of Clinton, was interviewed extensively by FBI agents after he pleaded guilty in May to election-law violations and agreed to cooperate with investigators. He also named a new source of secret foreign funds that were funneled into the last presidential campaign.

A 74-page FBI report obtained by the Los Angeles Times offers the first detailed account of illicit foreign fund-raising by Trie, one of the most notorious financial supporters of Clinton's 1996 re-election effort.

Trie revealed for the first time the role of Tomy Winata, a Jakarta billionaire with financial ties to the Indonesian army and an aide to the chief of Chinese military intelligence. Trie said Winata sent him $200,000 in traveler's checks to "help out" with donations. Trie used a portion to make illegal contributions to the Democratic National Committee and reimburse donors to the Clinton legal defense fund.

Federal law prohibits campaign contributions from foreign sources and hiding the identity of donors.

Trie's account could also further embarrass Vice President Al Gore by shedding new light on a particularly damaging event from the Democratic front-runner's past. Trie told the FBI that he first suggested that either Clinton or Gore visit the Hsi Lai Temple in Southern California, specifically to raise political funds.

Trie said he called Democratic fund-raiser John Huang with the proposal, adding that they shared an understanding with "Asians in general that there was a lot of money" at the temple.

Gore, surrounded by saffron-robed nuns and monks, attended a luncheon at the Los Angeles-area temple that raised $140,000 for the Democratic National Committee -- a visit that came to epitomize the 1996 fund-raising scandal. The vice president later denied that he knew the event was a fund-raiser.

Both Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican winner in last week's New Hampshire primary, and former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, Gore's Democratic rival, have hammered the vice president for his role in 1996 fund-raising excesses.

Responding to Trie's account of the genesis of the temple event, Laura Quinn, Gore's communications director, said: "We have nothing to add. That doesn't change any of the facts as they relate to the vice president."

It was the use of straw donors at the Hsi Lai Temple that turned Gore's visit April 29, 1996, into a political quagmire. The temple reimbursed many of the donors who wrote checks to the Democrats.

The FBI report is missing about one-third of its original content, deleted to protect grand jury secrecy and continuing criminal investigations. Trie completed 17 interviews with agents and government attorneys between May 28 and Oct. 27 last year.

Trie's attorney could not be reached for comment.

One of the report's most striking disclosures is Trie's acknowledgment that he used false identification to spirit a foreign businessman into the White House under the noses of Secret Service agents.

Trie invited Chich Chong "Simon" Chien, the Taiwan chairman of TransCapital International and a potential client, to a White House holiday dinner for DNC supporters.

Trie explained to FBI agents that he "did not want people thinking that he was bringing another foreigner into the White House."

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