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Clinton Met Foreign Donor to Discuss U.S.-China Trade

Fund-raising: Indonesian executive Riady offered president advice in September, administration reports.

November 16, 1996|ALAN C. MILLER and GLENN F. BUNTING | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Indonesian financier James Riady, a major figure in the furor over foreign contributions to the Democratic Party, discussed trade policy toward China with President Clinton as recently as September, administration officials disclosed Friday.

Riady, a longtime friend of Clinton, encouraged the president to remain on a steady course of improving relations with China, where Riady's Indonesian conglomerate has a major financial stake, officials said.

Clinton recalled Riady's "telling me I was doing exactly the right thing by engaging with China and I should continue to do that," White House spokesman Mike McCurry said in an interview.

The account of Riady's meeting with Clinton raises new questions about whether the president provided extraordinary opportunities for an influential backer--one who is not an American citizen--to offer advice on significant foreign policy issues.

Riady, his family and their companies and executives have contributed $475,000 to the Democratic Party and its candidates since 1991, according to Federal Election Commission records.

The disclosure of the September meeting came as the administration provided the most comprehensive portrait to date of White House access enjoyed by several of the principals in the controversy over the Democrats' solicitation of illegal or suspect foreign contributions.

John Huang, the central figure in the fund-raising controversy, saw President Clinton 15 times among his 94 visits to the White House in his roles as a Democratic National Committee fund-raiser, Commerce Department official and employee of Riady's worldwide business empire during the last four years, the administration said.

On some occasions he was accompanied by Riady, who visited the White House 20 times and saw Clinton six times, according to Secret Service logs of visitors to the White House and interviews with Clinton and his aides. Clinton and Riady had become friends when both lived in Little Rock in the 1980s, Clinton as governor of Arkansas and Riady as an executive of the Worthen Bank.

Substantive Talks

Clinton and Riady twice engaged in substantive policy discussions, most recently on Sept. 9, when Huang was not present, and once before in April of 1993, when, in Huang's presence, he urged the president to meet with Indonesian President Suharto in advance of a meeting of the world's seven leading industrial nations in Tokyo.

McCurry said Clinton "believes that Riady was among several people, both in government and out of government, who encouraged him to see Suharto," McCurry said. Clinton, surprising his advisors, abruptly announced that he would meet with the Indonesian leader in Tokyo.

In a further effort to dispel the fund-raising controversy, Clinton said he disapproved of the kind of overseas prospecting trip that Huang made to Taiwan in May and would have objected to it had he known about the mission in advance, according to McCurry.

Clinton told the New York Times in an interview that fund-raising trips abroad run the risk of bringing in illegal foreign contributions such as those that the Democratic National Committee has had to return in the last two months, the spokesman said.

"The president does think it is improper to raise money offshore," McCurry said. "You get into an area where it becomes much harder to verify the source of the money."

He said that Clinton was referring to the difficulty of ensuring that donors are legal residents or that corporate contributions are being made by U.S. subsidiaries of foreign companies, as required by U.S. election law.

Clinton reiterated his support for a change in the law to prohibit donations from noncitizens as part of a more comprehensive campaign reform measure to curb the kind of record-shattering sums that the Democrats and Republicans raised this year, McCurry said.

The spokesman said that none of the meetings with Riady or Huang revealed undue access or influence over U.S. policy. Officials said they had found no indication that Riady or Huang discussed any specific business interests of Riady's company, the Lippo Group.

"There's not any evidence that these guys used their access and friendship to advance their commercial interests in Lippo," McCurry said. "There's no indication that they came over and asked anyone to make a call to the Energy Department or the U.S. trade representative or anything that they had an active interest in."

Improved Stature

At the same time, McCurry said Clinton was aware that Riady, a financial backer of the Democrats when he was a legal U.S. resident before Clinton's 1992 election, had reaped benefits in Asia because of his ready entree to the president of the United States.

"He knew Riady was doing a lot of business in China," McCurry said. "He knew [their talks] would get to Chinese officials through Riady. . . . It helped Riady. It raised his stature."

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