House Republicans say President Clinton may have created a Utah national monument not only to block coal mining there - but to reward competing mines controlled by Indonesians accused of illegally funneling donations to him.
House Judiciary Committee Republicans included that allegation in a 23-page letter they sent to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno this week detailing reasons they say she should appoint an independent counsel to investigate the Clinton-Gore campaign.Among those signing was Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, a longtime vocal critic of Clinton's surprise creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument last year.
Their letter said creating the monument is "one possible quid pro quo" (something for something) for receiving allegedly illegally funneled donations from the Lippo Group.
That group is a multibillion dollar real estate and financial conglomerate owned by the Riady family - ethnic Chinese who live in Indonesia.
John Huang, a Democratic fund-raiser at the middle of current fund-raising scandals, worked for the Lippo Group before joining the Commerce Department - where Republicans allege he may have given trade plans to Lippo and the Chinese government.
Huang is also accused of helping Lippo to funnel money illegally to the Clinton-Gore campaign.
The House Republicans' letter says Clinton's creation of the monument "abruptly halted plans to mine the world's largest deposit of clean-burning `super compliance coal"' - and did so "with virtually no consultation with people in the affected area of Utah."
And it said, "The second largest deposit of this kind of coal lies in Indonesia, and critics suggest that the designation was made as a reward to Lippo."
Cannon said Thursday it is an "uncanny coincidence that the high-grade, clean-burning coal found within the monument's borders is rivaled only by a deposit in Indonesia. The potential connection to the Lippo Group is obvious."
When Clinton designated the monument nearly a year ago, he said a main reason was to prevent proposed coal mining there - which he said threatened its pristine environment. Documents obtained by Congress since then also show the administration thought it would help shore up election support from environmental groups.
Cannon said Thursday, "It is time for the appointment of an independent counsel. . . . There is certainly enough evidence, and there is clearly a conflict of interest with the Clinton administration investigating itself."
Reno this week started a formal process to evaluate whether an independent counsel should be appointed - which came after disclosure that money Gore raised by White House phone calls were not for unregulated "soft money" as he claimed but for "hard money."
Also this week, Buddhist nuns testified that Gore attended a fund-raiser at their temple after Huang helped them invite him - and they gave illegal donations in return. Gore has said he didn't know that visit was a fund-raiser, although documents show that his staff did.