Utah's two senators say Republicans could have been even tougher in a new report concluding President Clinton abused campaign laws and made the White House a fund-raising tool.
They said it could have delved deeper into the Clinton campaign's ties to China and how a flood of illegal money early on likely cost Republican Bob Dole any chance of being competitive.Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, says he even plans an hourlong speech in the Senate next week to expound on such areas.
He and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, both served on the special Senate committee that investigated the 1996 campaign, which issued a final report on the Internet Friday after a party-line vote approved it Thursday.
Bennett is also the only senator who served not only on that panel but also two earlier investigative committees that probed the Whitewater scandal. He said the three probes make him conclude "the level of disregard by Clinton for the law was very high and very consistent."
Hatch added, "There's no question that this president raised millions and millions of illegal dollars - some estimate as high as 50 million."
He added, "He may have defeated Dole anyway - but Dole doesn't think so. There's no doubt that Clinton's skirting of the law gave him a huge advantage."
Bennett agreed. "There's no question what Dole started out at a huge disadvantage that was unprecedented in American politics. Had he been able to close the gap without that we will never know."
Both Bennett and Hatch also agree with a central assertion in the report that the Clinton campaign's drive for cash was so great that it and the Democratic Party dismantled normal safeguards used to screen for illegal money. As a result, illegal money came while campaign officials claimed ignorance of it.
"I believe that absolutely and that it was deliberate," Bennett said.
Hatch said, "There's no question that they skirted the ethical and legal line continuously, and crossed it in many cases."
He added, "And these are the same people who say they want campaign finance reform. It's ingenuous."
The senators said they also found it disturbing that the White House was used for coffee gatherings for big donors; that foreign nationals who cannot legally donate in U.S. races did so anyway; and that the Clinton campaign ignored warnings about some of its shadier fund-raisers and potential donors.
Bennett said he will continue to push for a greater focus "on the Chinese connection and (Democratic fund-raiser) John Huang" - and said much of his speech next week will explore that.
The report says even after some officials warned that Huang was raising money illegally, he still sat with President Clinton at fund-raising events and obtained access for people from China and South Korea who afterward made large donations.
Hatch said he also believes strong evidence exists that Democratic fund-raiser Maria Hsia was a Chinese agent. She has been indicted on charges stemming from a fund-raiser by Vice President Al Gore at a Buddhist Temple where nuns and monks acknowledged serving as illegal fronts for donations from abroad.
"She has tried to conceal that (China) relationship. It's a startling thing, of course, because she had a very close relationship with Gore," Hatch said.
He also said a decision by Democratic fund-raiser Johnny Chung to plead guilty to some lesser charges to cooperate with the Justice Department could help clear up such matters and further investigate possible ties with China.
Hatch said he was also concerned about findings that the Clinton administration took huge donations from American Indian tribes - "which have some of the biggest problems with poverty in the nation" - which may have influenced decisions on which tribes won permission to operate casinos.
A special prosecutor has been appointed to investigate allegations arising from the committee's hearings that Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt was given and followed orders from the White House to block a casino for a tribe that donated to Republicans, which was opposed by tribes that donated to Democrats.