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Former Clinton Aide Denies Soliciting Funds from Taiwan

By Sara Fritz and Richard A. Serrano
Los Angeles Times

A former White House aide Thursday strongly denied reports that he had solicited $15 million from Taiwan's ruling party for President Clinton's re-election campaign.

Mark E. Middleton issued a statement denouncing as false the allegations made by a Taipei public relations consultant who claims to have been present when Middleton arranged to receive $15 million for Clinton from Liu Tai-Ying, chief financial officer of the Kuomintang Party. Liu also has denied the charge.

The denial came as the public relations consultant, C.P. Chen, went public in Taiwan with his accusations about Middleton. Chen previously had spoken to the media only on the condition that he not be identified.

Also on Thursday, Attorney General Janet Reno said that her department has begun the lengthy process of determining whether to put an investigation of fund-raising by Clinton aides into the hands of an independent counsel, as requested by leading Republicans.

Justice Department sources said that it could take between a month and 120 days for Reno to decide whether to seek appointment of an independent counsel. Reno rejected the Republicans' request for a prompt decision.

Middleton, 34, is an Arkansan who previously worked as an aide to White House senior aide Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty and who has been working as an international relations consultant since leaving the White House in February 1995.

In his statement, Middleton said that he had been to Taiwan several times for various business reasons. But Middleton carefully contradicted nearly every other element in the account of a meeting that took place in August 1995 that Chen said he observed between Liu and Middleton in Taipei.

"While I was in Taiwan," Middleton said, "I never represented that I was a current White House employee, never stated or implied that I was attempting to raise funds for the DNC (Democratic National Committee) or for any candidate, and never accepted or arranged any contributions to the DNC or to any candidate from any other foreign source."

Middleton did not make any reference to whether or not he had met with Liu in Taipei that August. He also did not say why, as American officials have said, he brought Liu to a Democratic fund-raiser in San Francisco a month later.

Chen claims that Middleton solicited funds for the Clinton campaign from Liu and, in return, that Liu pledged $15 million to the campaign. But there is no evidence that Liu made any such donation, which would be illegal under various U.S. laws, including those placing limits on campaign contributions and others governing contributions from foreign sources.

The meeting between Liu and Clinton came at a delicate time for Taiwan, which has not enjoyed formal diplomatic relations with the United States since 1979. The country's political leaders have invested heavily over the years to lobby through whatever channels they could to win closer ties to the United States, which formally recognizes Taiwan's enemy, mainland China.

In late 1995, Taiwan was preparing for its first presidential elections the following spring.

Middleton acknowledged in his statement Thursday that he is "acquainted with" two other men who also have been accused of improperly soliciting campaign funds from Taiwanese and other Asian sources.

Those two men are John Huang, a former Commerce Department official who has been the chief Democratic Party fund-raiser for Asian-Americans, and James C. Wood, who heads the American Institute for Taiwan, the U.S. government-funded agency that handles diplomacy with Taipei.

Even before Reno received requests for an independent counsel, the Justice Department was investigating charges that Wood solicited illegal campaign contributions from business executives in Taiwan. In addition, Huang was recently suspended from his job at the DNC when it was learned that he had been involved in collecting illegal or improper donations in the United States, and perhaps in Asia as well.

Reno said the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section will conduct a review that is certain to continue beyond Tuesday's presidential election.

Reno insisted that no one in the White House has talked to her about the requests for an independent counsel. She also denied suggestions that the Justice Department was attempting to delay the Huang probe until after the election. She said she has "generally tried to stay out of partisan political issues."