Saying this could be the most significant scandal of the Clinton administration, Republicans are pushing for answers as to why a major Democratic donor, whose company was under a Justice Department investigation, got a waiver for a satellite deal with the Chinese.
The donor, Loral Space and Communications chief executive Bernard Schwartz, on Sunday strongly denied trying to buy influence or pass sensitive technology to the Chinese. White House National Security Adviser Sandy Berger agreed that politics played no part in the administration decisions.House Speaker Newt Gingrich, interviewed by CNN's "Late Edition," acknowledged there was "clearly no hard evidence at this stage" to prove Clinton was swayed by campaign donations or economic interests to make risky national policy decisions.
But he said Clinton had set "a very very bad precedent" by agreeing to the satellite licenses earlier this year when the Justice Department was investigating possible illegal transfers of missile technology in 1996.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said on "Fox News Sunday" that "these transfers are made at a time exactly when these enormous contributions were being made and at a time when these decisions were being considered. That doesn't necessarily raise an inference of bribery, but it raises a very substantial question."
Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., named by Gingrich to head an eight-member House investigation, promised to cooperate with Democrats on what he said would be a discrete bipartisan investigation.
"It won't be political theater in the form of splashy congressional hearings," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press," an apparent reference to the divisive campaign finance hearings led by Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind.
Cox said that with the recent revelations that a Chinese military officer may have funneled money to the Democratic Party through fund-raiser Johnny Chung, "I'm concerned that we may have stumbled onto a rather significant intelligence problem" that his panel may not have time to fully investigate.
Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on ABC that "these are the most serious allegations that I've heard on any administration in the last eight, 10, 12 years, maybe longer."
But both the White House and Schwartz insisted there was no improper activity.
Schwartz, on ABC's "This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts," said Loral experts did nothing more than confirm Chinese findings about the cause of a 1996 explosion of a Chinese rocket carrying a Loral satellite. The Justice investigation centers on whether Loral provided the Chinese with secrets that could be used to improve the accuracy of their ballistic missiles.
"All we did was look at their report and say that the report, with respect to what went wrong, was accurate," Schwartz said.