In “The French Connection,” the iconic 1971 film starring Gene Hackman as the grisly New York City detective Popeye Doyle, the bad guy is a wealthy Frenchman operating the world’s largest heroin-smuggling syndicate. In what could be its sequel, the Chinese government has been operating the world’s largest influence-peddling syndicate for decades. The drug of choice is no longer heroin but money - and lots of it. Starting in the mid-1990s with the Clintons, it has grown in both size and audacity and now seems to have ensnared the Biden family, as well. There is a straight line from China’s meddling in the 1996 presidential election directly to Biden, Inc. and their present-day “Chinese Connection.”
Today, we refer to it simply as the 1996 U.S. Campaign Finance Controversy. However, during the Clinton presidency, it was so much more. Both the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) were directly involved in raising large sums of cash from foreign sources, mostly with ties to the Chinese government. The lead actors in the scandal were Johnny Huang, Charlie Trie, Johnny Chung and James Riady. There was also the infamous fundraiser at the Buddhist temple in California and the straw donors they used to funnel money to the DNC – all the makings of a true crime classic.
After the election, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's final report stated that “the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. was used for coordinating contributions to the DNC in violation of United States law…” It went on to say, “the Committee uncovered strong circumstantial evidence that the Government of the People's Republic of China was involved in funding, directing or encouraging some of these foreign contributions.”
That was China’s entrée into American elections. Just prior to leaving office in September 2000, President Clinton signed into law the US-China Trade Relationship Act, clearly in exchange for their financial stewardship of his campaign. China got full and permanent normalized trade relations with the U.S., making their acceptance into the World Trade Organization (WTO) a foregone conclusion. When the Clintons left office broke, the money they raised giving speeches was not nearly enough to get them out of debt, let alone give them the lifestyle they so desperately craved. The Clinton Foundation, perhaps not so coincidentally, had been established in 1997 and became the vehicle by which Chinese money flowed into our politics and the Clintons’ pockets. However, it was only after the Clintons left office that it began to really mushroom into what we see today.
The Clintons have always understood that power and money in politics are intertwined. So, it came as no surprise that after carpet-bagging her way to a U.S. Senate seat in New York, Hillary ran for president in 2008. After all, it was her turn. After losing to Obama in what was a stunning defeat to the Clinton machine, they made a Faustian deal. The Obamas craved power and legitimacy, while the Clintons needed money and a perch from which Hillary could stay relevant for her next presidential bid. As Secretary of State, everyone -- including China -- knew she would run again in 2016. It is during that time that the money from China as well as other foreign nations really began to pour into the Clinton Foundation.
Both Russia and China have continually tried to influence U.S. elections to their benefit. Who can forget Uranium One and the $2.4 million that somehow found its way to the Clinton Foundation? The Clintons aren’t the only political family cashing in on foreign connections. Biden Inc. watched and learned a lot from the Clintons. They too would be an equal opportunity conduit to the power elite in D.C. After all, what is the difference between a K-Street lobbyist and Cathay-State lobbying? It was an all-too-familiar pattern, except what used to be more secretive and funneled through straw donors or Chinese businessmen was now in the age of social media much more out in the open. Instead of covert dealings, Biden, Inc. has tried to rename and redefine it to mean something else. It is now as if we are being told, “Who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes”? Even if someone wants to argue their chummy relations with the power elite of foreign nations and the timing of the numerous large transfer of monies is coincidental, it should not be acceptable on any level.
It seems history does, in fact, repeat itself. First came the Clintons and their foundation. Now, we have the Biden family and Biden, Inc. Even more than Russia, the ties that bind them make up the Chinese Connection. November 3 will tell us a lot about the direction of the country, and how the nexus of money and power really flows in and through the D.C. establishment.
It will also leave a lot of important questions unanswered. Foremost among them is whether as a country we have become so numb to pay-for-play politics that it no longer matters. The time of choosing is at hand. Where is Popeye Doyle when we need him most?
Robert Chernin is the chairman of the American Center for Education and Knowledge.