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Trie Pleads Not Guilty to Charges of Purchasing Political Influence

By Roberto Suro
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

Presidential friend Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie entered a plea of not guilty Thursday on federal charges that he funneled illegal foreign contributions to the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election effort in order to buy access to top Democratic Party and Clinton administration officials.

Justice Department investigators had hoped Trie would seek a plea agreement and provide information that might take prosecutors inside the White House and the Democratic National Committee in their campaign finance inquiry. But their effort to build a broader case is stalled, department sources and defense attorneys said.

After Trie's arraignment in federal court here, his attorney, Reid H. Weingarten, said, "he never intended to corrupt the American political system. Any effort to make him the heavy in this political scandal will fall of its own weight."

Trie voluntarily returned to the United States on Tuesday to face a 15-count indictment after spending more than a year in Asia. Trie had boasted in interviews that he could hide overseas for a decade if necessary, but federal officials said Trie had been informed that the United States would seek the cooperation of foreign governments to have him apprehended and extradited.

No negotiations are underway that might lead to an immunity deal for Trie, and none are expected until his Oct. 7 trial date approaches, Justice Department officials and others close to the case said.

Meanwhile, prosecutors are also at an impasse in their efforts to reach a cooperation agreement with Maria Hsia, another Democratic fund-raiser who has been under investigation for handling illegal foreign campaign contributions, according to department officials and Hsia's attorney, Nancy Luque, who said her client will not plead guilty to any crimes.

The failure to make prosecution witnesses out of Trie, Hsia or any other significant figures in the campaign finance scandal means that the Justice Department investigation will proceed slowly at best.