Gavel To Gavel

Gavel To Gavel: Fund-Raising Hearings

Torricelli, Brownback Discuss The Campaign Finance Hearings

Aired September 5, 1997 - 8:34 a.m. ET

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN ANCHOR: For more on the political fallout facing Al Gore, we're joined by two senators. Both are on the Governmental Affairs Committee holding hearings on campaign fund- raising practices. Robert Torricelli is a Democrat from New Jersey, and he joins us from our Washington bureau. And Republican Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas is on Capitol Hill. Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining us.



PILGRIM: My first question to Senator Torricelli: We just heard the Buddhist nun testimony, that they destroyed records to avoid embarrassment. How damaging is that for the vice president?

TORRICELLI: Well, I think it's really part of a continuing series. This isn't anything we didn't know. John Huang clearly did not belong on the Democratic National Committee; he was not properly supervised and had no respect for the law.

The question is, can you bring this to the responsibility of Al Gore? We also have evidence that Al Gore's scheduler has said under oath that she, specifically, asked whether this was a fund-raiser and was told that it was not. We know the vice president's schedule for that day did not indicate that it was a fund-raiser. He thought he was meeting with a group of citizens in Community Outreach.

So is there damage to the Party, the responsibility to people involved? Of course. Can you make this the responsibility of Al Gore? Well, if you can, there isn't any evidence to support it at this point.

PILGRIM: All right. Senator Brownback, is it possible that the vice president is guilty of nothing more than not paying enough attention? He says he thought it was a Community Outreach program.

BROWNBACK: Well, monies were raised at this event. John Huang was at the event, and we have a picture that shows the vice president with John Huang. At that time, he was vice chairman of fund-raising for the DNC. There were monies that were raised at it. I think this goes far beyond that...

PILGRIM: All right. Let me challenge you...

BROWNBACK: ... when you have that quantity of money that was raised.

PILGRIM: Let me challenge you a little bit on those facts. No tables were set up, no checks transferred hands at the luncheon; it was the day before and the day after. What do you say to that?

BROWNBACK: Well, I say that John Huang was there, and what was his role the whole time? It was to raise funds for the DNC and for the presidential race, and he was involved with that. And the vice president was there, and this happened. I mean, I think if he's claiming that well, he didn't know that this was a fund-raiser, there was ample evidence all around him at that time that that was indeed what was taking place.

PILGRIM: All right. Senator Torricelli, should the religious venue of this event have raised alarm bells alone?

TORRICELLI: I think that if there was proper supervision of the Democratic National Committee, bells would have gone off everywhere. There clearly were a series of laws that were being violated here, but the principal offense is that after the event when Al Gore was long gone, John Huang, being on scene, meets with people in the temples and then begins this laundering of money. That's the principal criminal offense here, and it was an event after the fact.

In any case, this is obviously not a proud moment. It is an indication of the extent of the campaign finance problems in our country. But I think to suggest that Al Gore had knowledge in advance of the event or what became a criminal act afterwards, there just isn't evidence of it.

PILGRIM: All right. Senator Brownback, how political are these proceedings? And what do you say to people who say that you're trying to derail the vice president's presidential bid?

BROWNBACK: Well, some of the toughest questions were asked by Democrat members of the panel. I mean, some of Joe Lieberman's questions, a Democrat from Connecticut who I have a great deal of respect for, were asking about the destruction of evidence, which this is the first instance -- the first case where we have actual destruction of evidence that took place. And some of the questions by the minority council -- so I don't think you could hardly call that trying to derail the Democrat nominee this next time around.

PILGRIM: Senator Torricelli, Vice President Al Gore's schedule includes a trip to New Hampshire today. How dented is he by these proceedings and allegations?

TORRICELLI: Oh, I think, to be realistic, obviously, this has not been helpful. But Al Gore is still an administration that is in a commanding position in the United States, the best economic performance in more than a generation. The Party is remarkably well united.

And Al Gore, for whatever he has stumbled into with these difficulties, and I can see they are considerable and I'm as troubled at them by Senator Brownback is. Nevertheless, as a man with a good reputation, he's had a high ethnical record in the past. He survived the experience, but I'm not here to tell you that there isn't damage.

PILGRIM: All right, thank you, gentlemen, both for debating the issue with me.

BROWNBACK: Thank you.

PILGRIM: Democratic Senator Robert Torricelli from New Jersey, and also Republican Senator Sam Brownback. Thank you very much.

TORRICELLI: Thank you.

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E-mail From Washington:
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Senate Democrats Prep For Trade, Tobacco Deal
Helms Faces A Deadline On Weld Meeting By Today

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