WASHINGTON — Even though fund-raiser Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie is a central figure in the controversy over tainted--and possibly illegal--donations to President Clinton and the Democratic Party, he remains a member of a White House advisory panel on trade with Pacific nations.
Indeed, Trie's role on the 17-member commission is expected to attract as much attention as the panel's recommendations themselves, scheduled for release Wednesday, by the Commission on United States-Pacific Trade and Investment Policy.
Trie, currently residing in Asia and refusing to cooperate with federal inquiries into the questionable political contributions, has not participated in commission deliberations since September. But he was active in the group's initial study phase, which included a 10-day trip to Asia, administration officials said.
The fact that his name will be attached to the commission's report has angered some. "It's unbelievable, both that Trie didn't resign and that the White House didn't ask him to resign," said a source familiar with the commission. "He's been subpoenaed. He's fled to China. He's behaving like a citizen of another country."
Commission Chairman Kenneth D. Brody said Monday: "We don't appoint or de-appoint the commission members. The commission is a presidential commission, appointed by the president."
But taking note of the furor surrounding Trie, Brody added: "The good news is that Charlie Trie's membership on this commission gives us some chance that people might actually pay more attention to the report. The bad news is that [this] is not the way one would have liked the report to be introduced."
The commission was established at the urging of Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) to review trade and investment policies in the Pacific region and recommend steps to reduce the widening trade deficit between the United States and Asian nations, including Japan and China. It was expected to send its 133-page report to Clinton late Monday.
Clinton's decision to put Trie on the commission in 1995 prompted criticism that the president selected his longtime friend as a political reward rather than for his professional credentials. Clinton is said to have expanded the commission in early 1996 in part to make room for Trie, a Little Rock, Ark., restaurant owner who became an international businessman operating in China and elsewhere in Asia. The final internal list of commission members included a bold-face note following Trie's name: "Supported by White House. Democrat-AR [Arkansas]."
Months later, Trie orchestrated $639,000 in donations to the president's legal defense fund that were returned last June because their sources seemed suspicious. Trie, his wife and his import-export business, Daihatsu International Trading Co., contributed $207,000 to the Democratic National Committee and Trie solicited another $438,000. The Democrats plan to return all the money.
Trie, a Taiwanese immigrant, attended most of the commission's first eight meetings in Washington and participated in a one-day session in California's Silicon Valley, an official said. In addition, he traveled to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Jakarta and Beijing with other members in September. Participants paid their own expenses for the fact-finding trip.
"His role wasn't extensive but he had some contributions in looking at trade policy from the standpoint of small- and medium-size companies and I think he had some participation in understanding some of the Asian countries," said Brody, a former chairman of the Export-Import Bank. "I can't think of anything that he specifically added that comes out as a report recommendation. On the other hand, there is some flavor that he added."
Trie's participation with the commission abruptly ended after his name surfaced in news accounts of questionable contributions to the Democratic Party last fall. He wrote to commission members in January to apologize that the controversy had interfered with their work, an official said. The letter was postmarked from Asia.
Justice Department investigators looking into the allegedly improper contributions are examining the movement of funds to Trie. They have determined that he received large transfers in 1995 and 1996 from the state-run Bank of China, sources said.