After months of circumstantial evidence, prosecutors finally have a concrete link to an alleged Chinese plot to influence U.S. elections. And it came from the one Democratic fund-raiser who makes no bones about what his donations were designed to accomplish.
California businessman Johnny Chung already had caused a stir when he compared his six-figure donations during the 1996 elections to subway tokens designed to gain him and his business associates access to the White House.But after striking a deal this spring to cooperate with prosecutors, Chung made a stunning revelation that is likely to give new focus and energy to the Justice Department's 1 1/2-year-old criminal investigation into fund raising.
Chung claims he received $300,000 from a Chinese aerospace official, Liu Chao-ying, who also is a lieutenant colonel in the People's Liberation Army, according to sources familiar with a recent FBI briefing on Capitol Hill about the matter.
Until then, prosecutors only had hints of such an effort backed by the Chinese government - mostly from intelligence intercepts of conversations in which such a plan was discussed, sources have said.
Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate investigation, vowed to prove the plan existed during his hearings last year but never quite got the smoking-gun evidence.
In a related matter, a government official said Saturday the Justice Department has opened a preliminary inquiry into whether political donations influenced President Clinton's decision in 1996 to approve the export of satellite technology to China.
At the time, Loral Corp. was under criminal investigation for an earlier export of similar technology.
Republicans have criticized the waiver and suggested it was based on political donations, not the national interest. The White House has denied the charge.