Trump and Alinsky; 'Contempt' Coverage; Foreign Influence

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Good morning, it’s Monday, May 13, 2019. I hope you had a nice Mother’s Day. As I write these words, the New York Stock Exchange has yet to open, but a dip in the market is coming. Asian and European stocks have already taken a hit and Wall Street investors were made skittish over the weekend by the escalating U.S.-China trade war.

All this has put me in mind of a president with a far different attitude toward free trade than the current chief executive. The year was 1996, and Bill Clinton was hosting dozens of events each month -- the total would come to 150 -- at which he feted wealthy donors and Democratic Party fundraisers. Most of these gatherings were held in swanky hotel dining rooms. Twenty-eight of them took place inside historic White House rooms, including the Oval Office.

Some of the fundraising activists, especially those born overseas, were controversial, mainly because they were donating amounts that seemed suspicious. Did the large sums flowing into the coffers of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton-Gore campaign really come from foreign interests, even foreign governments? More specifically, was the president of the United States openly soliciting money that was really coming from China?

Inquiring minds wanted to know, but Attorney General Janet Reno, stung by the excesses of previous special prosecutors she’d named, refused to appoint an independent counsel. Yet facts, those stubborn things, have a way of coming to light, even if it takes a while.

In a moment, I’ll explain how the 1996 presidential campaign was compromised on this very night 23 years ago. First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:

* * *

Trump's Rules for Republicans (Adapted From Alinsky). Frank Miele argues that the president has taken a page -- several, actually -- from the left’s playbook.

Current Coverage of AG “Contempt” Dwarfs Obama Era “Crisis.” Kalev Leetaru has this comparison of cable news channel attention paid to the William Barr hearing last week and that of Eric Holder seven years ago.

Norm Mineta and the Art of Representation. Les Francis spotlights the retired congressman, who is the subject of new PBS documentary.

An Inconvenient Truth for Critics of Amazon “Sweatshops.” RealClearMarkets editor John Tamny asserts that the company’s automated system of performance review is a fair measure of productivity and an equitable tool for advancement.

If You Want to Help Starving Countries, Don’t Send Food. Also in RCM, Allan Golombek warns that food aid has undermined the Third World agricultural sector by depressing local markets and thereby discouraging local production.

Reliance on Foreign Minerals Leaves America at Risk. In RealClearEnergy, Matthew Kandrach argues against domestic mining regulations that limited U.S. production of minerals deemed critical by the Defense Department.

Eco-Scientists’ Air Travel Hypocrisy. In RealClearScience, Beatriz Villarroel and Martin Lopez Corredoira assail the academic community’s do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do contradictions.

War Story. In RealClearDefense, John Waters reviews a new novel by David Richardson.

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On May 13, 1996, President Clinton was the headliner at a DNC fundraising dinner held at the Sheraton-Carlton Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C. The guests were Asian-American donors, among them Yah-Lin Trie, a Taiwan-born immigrant who went by the name of “Charlie” Trie in his adopted country. Charlie had settled in Little Rock where he opened a small Chinese restaurant. Among the patrons who enjoyed his fare was the young governor of Arkansas. And when Bill Clinton moved up in the world, going from the state capital to the nation’s capital, Trie decided to move with him. Trie relocated to Washington, and from his modest beginnings was somehow able to funnel $1.2 million to the DNC and other accounts benefiting the Clintons.

All this would come out later -- as would the proof linking this money to foreign sources -- but on the night in question, Bill Clinton inadvertently gave the game away

“It will be 20 years since I had my first meal with Charlie Trie,” Clinton told the Sheraton-Carlton crowd. “At the time, neither of us could afford a ticket to this dinner.”

Although the quip drew laughter from the audience, it made White House attorneys wince when they reviewed videotape of it the following year -- after the Democrats’ fundraising tactics had boiled over into a full-fledged scandal.

Much of the money raised by Trie and several other compromised donors was returned. The Justice Department targeted Clinton’s old friend and some of the other more egregious fundraisers. Several, including Charlie Trie, John Huang, and Johnny Chung, pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign financing laws.

Chung was perhaps the most brazen of the bunch. In May 1999, in testimony before the House Government Oversight Committee, he described meeting with the head of Chinese military intelligence in a Hong Kong basement. “We really like your president. We hope to see him re-elected,” the Chinese official told Chung. “I will give you 300,000 U.S. dollars. You can give it to the president and the Democratic Party.”

Also born in Taiwan, Chung had settled in Southern California where, somewhere along the line, he’d met Bill and Hillary Clinton. After the Clintons moved to Washington, Chung was a frequent White House guest -- he made 49 visits in all, according to Secret Service logs. Eventually, the $366,000 that Chung funneled to the DNC was refused, but not before he left us with a memorably straightforward explanation of his largesse.

“I see the White House is like a subway,” Chung told the Los Angeles Times. “You have to put in coins to open the gates.” 

Carl M. Cannon  
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter) 

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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