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DNC Donor Denies He Was Reimbursed

Fund-raising: Meeting with Clinton and Chinese arms dealer wasn't compensation for gift, lawyer says. Officials question events' proximity.

March 26, 1997|DOYLE McMANUS and SARA FRITZ | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Early on the morning of Feb. 6, 1996, Democratic fund-raiser Ernest G. Green delivered a $50,000 donation to the Democratic National Committee. A few hours later, he met with Chinese industrialist Wang Jun, with whom he hoped to do business in his role as a managing director of the Lehman Brothers investment bank. And only a few hours after that, Wang Jun--one of China's biggest arms exporters--was inside the White House, sipping coffee with President Clinton.

Those three events in one day have led Justice Department and congressional investigators to ask whether Green, an old Clinton friend from Little Rock, was a link between the Chinese government and Democratic Party fund-raising efforts.

But the investigators are barking up the wrong tree, a lawyer for Green said Tuesday.

"There's nothing there," attorney Robert Washington said in a telephone interview. "The [investigators'] theory is that Ernie Green laundered money for Wang Jun. That's preposterous and that's outrageous."

"No one reimbursed him for his contribution either directly or indirectly," he added. "Mr. Green has done nothing wrong and he intends to cooperate with everyone investigating these issues."

Washington confirmed that Green was contacted by congressional investigators seeking to learn whether he helped set up the meeting between Clinton and Wang Jun. But he said Green played no role in arranging it.

Clinton later called Wang Jun's presence at the coffee--one of dozens set up for supporters of the president--"clearly inappropriate."

The fact that Green delivered his contribution to the Democratic Party on the same day he met with Wang Jun and that Wang Jun visited the White House is "a coincidence," Washington said.

Green has refused to comment on the issues surrounding his contribution and his business relationship with Wang Jun. Washington's explanation was the first full description of the events from anyone close to Green.

The lawyer's disclosure that Green delivered the donation and met with Wang Jun on the same day that Wang Jun went to the White House was the first time the sequence of events has been revealed. But his main purpose was to stress that Green's business dealings with Wang Jun had no connection with his work as a volunteer fund-raiser and donor for the Democrats.

"There has never been a discussion with Wang Jun about a contribution," Washington said. "Since Feb. 8, 1996, Mr. Green has had no further contact with Wang Jun. Mr. Green never got any business from him."

A senior Democratic official who handled Green's contribution also said that the donation was not connected with Wang Jun's visit. "[Green] never mentioned Wang Jun," said the official, who asked not to be identified by name.

An Arkansan, Green is nationally known for the role he played as a teenager as one of the "Little Rock Nine" who integrated Central High School in Little Rock in the mid-1950s. Green worked in the Labor Department during the 1970s, became active as a fund-raiser for then-Gov. Bill Clinton in Arkansas and eventually became an investment banker at Lehman Brothers.

He met Wang Jun in Hong Kong in 1995 at a dinner of wealthy Asians in honor of visiting Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown. Some of the guests complained that a Democratic fund-raiser at the party, Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie, who also knew Clinton in Little Rock, later asked them for contributions. But Green knew of no such solicitations at the event, Washington said.

Green "spoke at the dinner about business opportunities," the lawyer said. He denied one guest's account that Green asked people present not to tell anyone about the party. "Mr. Green did not do that," he said.

When Wang Jun came to the United States in 1996, it was at least partly at Green's invitation. The banker was hoping to interest the Chinese magnate in doing more business with Lehman Brothers, Washington said.

But Trie also got involved in the visit, arranging for Wang Jun to join one of Clinton's White House coffees, the lawyer said.

At a breakfast meeting on Feb. 6, Green handed a $50,000 check written by his wife to David Mercer, a Democratic fund-raiser, Washington said.

A few hours later, Green met in his office with Wang Jun, Trie and others. They talked about business, not politics, although someone--probably Trie--mentioned that they were taking Wang Jun to the White House later that day, Washington said.

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