Feds Probe Clinton's Ties to Riady

Tuesday, July 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal investigators looking into alleged fund-raising abuses by Democrats questioned President Clinton extensively about his ties to Indonesian businessman James Riady, dating back to his 1992 White House campaign.

In testimony released Monday, Clinton said he did not remember a 1992 limousine ride in which Riady purportedly pledged to funnel $1 million in donations to his campaign.

``I don't have a specific recollection of what the conversation was, or this fact of the car ride,'' the president said. He said he only remembered seeing Riady ``sometime in '92 after I became the nominee,'' and that Riady pledged to help his campaign.

When pressed as to whether he could specifically recall Riady's $1 million promise, Clinton replied: ``I don't. I don't. And I don't know whether he ever gave that much money. ... If he said a million, I'm surprised I don't remember it.''

A 155-page transcript of Clinton's four-hour testimony, taken April 21, was released late Monday by the White House without comment.

A Justice Department task force is looking into whether Riady, as a foreign national, worked illegally to funnel campaign contributions to Clinton's presidential campaign.

According to an FBI summary released last year, Democratic fund-raiser John Huang, a Riady employee, said Riady ``rode in a limousine with ... Clinton,'' telling the then-Arkansas governor ``that he would like to raise $1 million.''

``Riady ... told Huang that President Clinton's reaction was one of surprise when J. Riady said he would like to raise $1 million,'' the summary added.

Huang said that in the following weeks, Riady employees donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democratic Party. He said he assumed the donors had been reimbursed by Riady, as he had been.

In the testimony, Clinton flatly denied taking Riady into the White House Situation Room in 1993, on the day that federal agents raided the Branch Davidians compound near Waco, Texas. According to investigators, Riady used such anecdotes to give government ministers in Indonesia the impression that his family ``had a direct pipeline to the Oval Office.''

``I don't think I've ever taken anybody to the Situation Room,'' the president said. ``I think that's highly unlikely.''

But Clinton also said he did not remember anything that happened that day. ``I did my best to go through the day to do my job, do what I was supposed to do,'' he said.

Clinton and Vice President Al Gore were questioned by investigators as part of the government's investigation into alleged fund-raising abuses by Democrats.

In his testimony, released last month, Gore wrestled with the definition of ``fund-raiser,'' insisted there was no price tag placed on White House coffees and denied knowing that the event he attended at a Buddhist temple in California was actually a fund-raiser. The questioning focused on the 1996 campaign.

Clinton, however, was interrogated about his 1992 and 1996 campaigns, his first encounters with Riady and Riady's father, Mochtar, and his process of deciding whom to tap for administration jobs and commission posts.

When investigators asked about the size of Riady's pledged donation — and the fact that Clinton seems to have forgotten such a large contribution — the president said such activities are commonplace.

``Sometimes people give that much money. I know in an election or two ago that one of the Republicans got that much money from one source,'' Clinton said. ``So, it happens from time to time and it's not unlawful. But I, I just don't remember.''

Clinton's testimony contained scant references to Gore, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee this year, and dealt mainly with whether he agreed that the coffees were his idea, not Gore's. ``If he said that, I wouldn't disagree with that,'' the president said.

He defended the coffees as innocent activity, saying he saw nothing wrong with them because he also was holding issues-oriented coffees at that time. ``And I still do some of them, but mostly in the late afternoon, unrelated to the'' Democratic National Committee, Clinton said. ``I liked them and they were easy on me.''

The task force also questioned the president about a vacation he and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton took at Camp David, Md., during the July 4th holiday in 1993, approximately a week after aide Webster Hubbell purportedly accepted $100,000 from a Riady entity. Clinton denied that Hubbell mentioned anything about working for Riady.

``The only thing I remember about that vacation was that I took a long walk with him (Hubbell) and I asked him if he was in trouble,'' Clinton said. ``And he said no, he was having a billing dispute with a law firm and he would resolve it. That's the searing memory I have about that.''

Clinton hotly denied telling Riady of concerns about payments to Hubbell because Hubbell might end up as a witness in an investigation. Such a conversation ``would have made Mr. (independent counsel Kenneth) Starr happy,'' he said.

``Webb Hubbell was persistently persecuted by the independent counsel because he would not lie about me or Hillary,'' Clinton said. ``I never worried about what Webb Hubbell would say. If he wanted to say something bad about me, he'd have to make it up.''