• U.S.


3 minute read
Richard Lacayo

White House spokesman Mike McCurry is a genial guy. So maybe he was just being genial when he laughed off questions last week concerning the whereabouts of John Huang, the suddenly infamous former Democratic fund raiser. Huang, who steered cash to party coffers from the billionaire Riadys of Indonesia, had been out of sight for days. At a White House press briefing, McCurry danced around the problem. Why couldn’t Huang meet with reporters? they asked. Too busy, McCurry said. Huang was preparing for a Federal Election Commission inquiry requested by the Clinton campaign. With a grin, McCurry added that he hoped the FEC, which routinely takes months on such things, would report back before Election Day. A reporter shouted that McCurry was giving an “extremely cynical performance.” “I’ve seen worse,” McCurry laughed. “I’ve done worse.”

Something about an electoral high must make people giddy. As Bill Clinton power glides toward re-election, nearly every day produces some new mess over his campaign funding. These include the disclosure that Jorge Cabrera, a convicted Florida drug dealer, contributed $20,000. The Democratic National Committee announced last week that it had returned the money, claiming no knowledge of his problems with the law. But in the overall responses of the President and his circle, which have ranged from the placid to the evasive, there is a whiff of hubris, the air of a campaign that sees every question mark as just another speed bump. Vice President Al Gore claims to have been entirely unaware that an April luncheon he attended at a Buddhist temple in California was an illegal fund raiser. With a face as straight as only his can be, Gore said in a radio interview last week that he thought the function, organized by Huang and the D.N.C., was a “community-outreach” event. More observant guests, however, have said it was plain to them that what was reaching out was an open palm. Attendees included deep-pocketed members of the local Asian-American community. The D.N.C. says it collected $140,000.

If McCurry was flip in the Huang affair and Gore implacable, the D.N.C. was intricately unhelpful. Last week a federal district judge in Washington, Royce Lamberth, approved a subpoena calling for Huang to appear in court in connection with a lawsuit filed by a conservative group, Judicial Watch, Inc., which suspects that the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown used foreign trade missions to collect money for the Democrats. Attorneys for the group want to question Huang about his old job as a trade official in the Commerce Department, which he left in December. Huang’s attorney, who called the suit a political maneuver, said his client would not emerge before Election Day.

All week top figures of the D.N.C. insisted they had no idea where Huang was. “We contact him through his attorney,” said committee spokeswoman Amy Weiss-Tobe. An exasperated Judge Lamberth finally issued a court order demanding that Huang show up at the office this week to receive the subpoena. Huang promised to comply. Advice to the Clinton campaign: a very big speed bump ahead, though the impact may not be felt until the second term.

–By Richard Lacayo. Reported by Jeffrey H. Birnbaum/Washington

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