The Huang Probe

It is increasingly clear that the activities of Democratic National Committee fund-raiser and former Commerce Department official John Huang demand more thorough investigation. Phone records and White House logs indicate Mr. Huang was in frequent touch with people in a position to press for, or grant, favors from government.

Perhaps no such influence peddling occurred, but the public deserves to know the full story. Contrary to his earlier statements that he avoided contact with his former employer, the Lippo Group financial conglomerate of Indonesia, Mr. Huang apparently often talked to people associated with Lippo during his tenure as a deputy secretary at the Commerce Department.

Huang's later fund-raising ran afoul of the law in a number of instances, with the DNC having to return $590,000 in contributions he raised from Asian business sources.

The Republican-led Congress is getting ready to look into the Huang-DNC-Lippo connections. At issue immediately is whether Attorney General Janet Reno should appoint a special prosecutor on the case as well.

Ms. Reno, meanwhile, has become the subject of speculation concerning her status within the administration. Some Clinton aides, and possibly the president himself, would prefer to see her go. Her willingness to appoint special prosecutors in other cases involving the administration has not made her popular.

Now her independence of mind will be tested again in the DNC fund-raising matter. This time, too, an objective investigator, working outside the partisan realms of the administration or Congress, would seem to be in order.

The Republicans are urging the attorney general to name a prosecutor, but partisan advantage is strictly a sideshow here.

The Huang case should be clarified because it opens a door on a campaign finance system that badly needs overhaul. Both parties are implicated in the misuse of that system. If some in the Republican leadership think they can tar the opposition with the Huang case and avoid getting behind the reform measures that could fix the system, they're wrong. That hypocrisy would fool no one.

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