The Clinton-Reno Justice Department is boasting that it has finally snared Indonesian businessman James Riady, one of the primary kingpins of the Clinton-Gore campaign finance scandal. On closer inspection, Justice has little to brag about.
Riady's indictment in the last fortnight of Clinton's tenure is more cause for suspicion than it is for celebration. The same is true for the terms of his plea agreement with the government.
Riady has agreed to plead guilty to a single felony involving a conspiracy to violate federal election laws. Riady will also plead guilty to 86 misdemeanor counts involving illegal foreign campaign contributions on behalf of LippoBank California -- part of the Lippo Group, a Riady family conglomerate.
Before you buy into the administration spin that the record $8.6 million fine is severely punitive, understand that Lippo is a multibillion-dollar company. Riady won't even feel it. But he will feel the freedom of not having to serve one day of jail time for his major role in corrupting the United States election process.
It's convenient that Riady made his deal with Clinton-Reno, rather than the Bush Justice Department. It's especially convenient for Clinton, as noted by the Wall Street Journal editorial page, that Riady's plea involves illegal contributions made from 1988 to 1994, wholly disregarding (and presumably forever foreclosing prosecution on) his tainted soft-money contributions to the Clinton-Gore effort in 1995 and 1996.
Here's some background on Riady. Clinton met him in Little Rock, Ark., in 1984, when he came there to run his family's bank. The two have been fast friends ever since.
Perhaps the most notorious meeting between them took place in Clinton's limousine in Little Rock in the heat of the 1992 presidential campaign. The men left a Clinton fund-raiser together where Riady had contributed $100,000. During the short ride, Riady reportedly promised that there would be plenty more where that came from. As it turned out, Riady bought substantial access to Clinton, visiting the White House over 20 times after 1992 and often lobbying Clinton on foreign policy issues, including expanding trade with China.
Riady's Lippo Group was among Clinton's greatest contributors, but it often laundered its donations through individuals (straw donors). Lippo was the company that hired Clinton's disgraced assistant attorney general Webster Hubbell after he resigned and paid him $100,000 allegedly without requiring any appreciable work in return. Investigators suspected this was hush money to procure Hubbell's silence about the various Clinton scandals and activities.
The Riady's were also connected with John Huang, another major player in the Clinton campaign finance saga. When Huang left the Lippo Group to accept his payback appointment in the Clinton Commerce Department, Lippo gave him $450,000 in severance pay. Huang's official reason for leaving his $205,000 salary with Lippo was "to have the opportunity to serve the country through this administration."
Within a month of his appointment, Huang curiously obtained a top security clearance from the Clinton administration. Because he didn't begin at Commerce until six months later, Huang enjoyed top security access while still an employee of the Lippo Group.
To put this in perspective, we can now connect a few of these dots and say that friend of Bill, John Huang, had top security clearance with the Clinton administration for six months while employed with a foreign company that would later plead guilty to 86 counts involving illegal foreign campaign contributions.
Commerce officials estimate that Huang attended over 70 meetings in 1994 and 39 in 1995 during which classified material might have been discussed. More troubling is that he maintained very close ties to Lippo during that period. Phone records show that he called Lippo at least 70 times shortly after these private briefings at Commerce. The Lippo Group, whose U.S. operations Huang once headed, reportedly benefited from at least $1 billion in trade deals negotiated through the Commerce Department.
On Sept. 13, 1995, Clinton met at the White House with Huang, Riady and others where Clinton personally arranged for Huang to be transferred from Commerce to an important position in the Democratic National Committee. Huang, ostensibly due to a bureaucratic error, retained his top-secret security clearance after he left Commerce and was with the DNC. While at the DNC, Huang raised some $3 million for the Democratic Party, about half of which was illegal foreign money that had to be returned.
Riady's prosecution is well and good, but wouldn't you just love to learn what Riady knows about Bill Clinton?