(CNSNews.com) - John Huang, a former Democratic National Committee Vice Chairman and a key player in the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign fundraising controversy, defended President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore before a House committee Wednesday as "dedicated men."
Huang told a Capitol Hill hearing of the House Government Reform and Operations Committee, "While things might have gone easy for me, were I able to implicate the president or vice president for wrongdoing, I never had a base upon which to do so. In fact, I maintain very high regard for each of these dedicated men."
Huang is testifying under a grant of immunity. The committee is interested in ascertaining what Huang's role was in the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election campaign. Most of the improper contributions that Democrats were forced to return after the 1996 election was raised by Huang and Yah Lin Trie, both of whom are longtime friends of Bill Clinton.
Chairman Dan Burton (R-IN) said the hearings could last 3 or 4 days and possibly through the weekend because Burton says the committee has waited a long time to hear from Huang.
"For the last three years, Mr. Huang has been one of 122 people who have invoked the Fifth Amendment or left the country. In our interim report, which we filed one year ago, we noted that 17 people associated with Mr. Huang had either taken the Fifth or left the country. The result has been a lot of unanswered questions. These are questions the American people deserve to get answered."
Committee ranking Democrat, Henry Waxman (D-CA) told Huang, he should apologize to the American people.
"Nothing excuses your illegal conduct. I hope you will take full responsibility for your actions today. If any evidence surfaces that supports the most sensational charges against you, I won't hesitate to join Mr. Burton in condemning those actions. At the same time, if there is no evidence to support the allegations of money laundering, spying and treason, all of which you have been accused of, I hope the chairman and others will acknowledge that fact and correct any false statements that they have made," Waxman said.
Huang pleaded guilty in August to charges of conspiring to defraud the Federal Election Commission (FEC) by arranging for employees of the Lippo group (an Indonesian based conglomerate run by the Riady family) to be reimbursed for their contributions in the 1992 and 1994 elections. Huang agreed to cooperate with federal authorities and was sentenced to probation.
During his committee testimony, Huang said, "The past three years have been a terrible ordeal for me and my family and for many Asian-Americans. While there are legitimate and substantive issues that merit inquiry, such as campaign finance reform and insuring effective access to the political process of minority groups, the focus instead has been on the national origin of individuals like myself and attempts to tar public servants that I and other Americans believe in and have served."
Huang admitted making mistakes but believes he was working for the good of Asian-Americans.
"As for myself, I have made mistakes. Embarrassed and saddened though I am by the unfortunate attention and conduct and notoriety brought upon my community, my motivation was not personal gain but was instead the integration of Asian-Americans into the political process of their chosen country. This, of course, is merely an explanation and by no means excuses my conduct, which unfortunately remained largely misunderstood, except by the Department of Justice and the court," Huang said.
Huang went on to say, "Americans have nothing to fear from me, but they do have much to fear from within. Hate mongers, bigots and regretfully, some of our elected officials continue to tear at America's greatest strength, its diversity, and at an alarming and escalating pace. The politics of pitting religious, ethic, and racial groups against one another, threaten to harm this great country. Only through the practice of compassionate, inclusive policy can communities and the nation overcome those who preach fear and exclusion. And while I am by no means a perfect servant, it is to this end I devote my future."
During his opening statement, Burton remarked, "Nothing in the committee's work should be interpreted as a slight on Asian-Americans or any other ethnic group."
However, Burton told Huang, "You are a very sophisticated player in the U.S. political system. You knew the law. And when you decided to break the law, you hurt a lot of people, and most of them were Asian-Americans. I really hope you will not try to blame the Justice Department for things that you are responsible for."
Burton expressed doubt that Huang has all the answers to the illegal campaign contributions in the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign and believes James Riady of the Indonesian based conglomerate should testify before the committee.
"If we really want to get the answers, we need to talk to James Riady. . . . If he wants to come back to the United States, the first thing he should do is come forward and explain his role in this whole fiasco to the American people. I think they deserve some answers," Burton said.
Burton also believes that Riady has been keeping in touch with Clinton despite being out of the country.
"He [Riady] showed up when the President was in New Zealand for an economic conference in September. The meeting was captured on videotape. Because Mr. Riady has thumbed his nose at the campaign finance investigation, we wondered why the president would greet him so warmly, and how he could get a seat of honor at an event the president attended," Burton said.
Burton then had two White House supplied tapes shown before the committee where Clinton appeared to pay special attention to Riady.
After the viewing, Burton said, "This White House is so consumed with covering things up that their taxpayer funded photographer wouldn't even allow a tape to be made of the president shaking Mr. Riady's hand. No one minded the president meeting Mister Riady, they just didn't want anyone to know about it."
Burton accused the Clinton White House of never showing an "intense desire" to get all the facts out.
"The President should ask Mr. Riady and all the other people who've stayed out of the country to come back and explain their actions," Burton said.