CHINA VS. RUSSIA ELECTION INTERFERENCE
Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee this week loudly condemned what they said were threats to American democracy posed by Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Twenty ago, however, Senate Democrats sang a different tune and offered no such dire warnings about Chinese government meddling in the 1996 presidential vote that reelected Bill Clinton.
At last Tuesday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Cyber Command budget, ranking Democrat Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island called Russian influence efforts “one of the great threats facing our democracy.” His remarks were echoed by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, who called the recent indictment of 13 Russians involved in the influence campaign “an incredibly chilling, absolutely terrifying account of an attack on our democracy.”
Democrat Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia added that “our democracy was humiliated,” and three other Democrats on the panel voiced similar warnings, as if all were speaking from the same set of talking points.
Based on the comments, these senators apparently believe Russian interference prevented former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from being elected president in November 2016. That has been the active political narrative of the so-called anti-Trump resistance to so-far unproven notions that Russia colluded with Mr. Trump in the campaign.
Back in 1997, however, Senate Democrats took a much softer line on China’s foreign influence operation after it was disclosed that Beijing illegally funneled millions of dollars in cash into President Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign. The Chinese were backing a president who had allowed American companies to sell high-technology goods to China that ended up boosting Beijing’s missile, warhead and other advanced weapons programs.
The investigation into Chinese illegal campaign influence was triggered by reports in early 1997 that the FBI had intercepted communications from the Chinese Embassy outlining a multiyear campaign known as “The Plan” to change U.S. policy, including helping Mr. Clinton’s reelection by funneling cash to Beijing-linked group Asian Americans for the Democratic National Committee.
The late Sen. Fred Thompson led the first Senate probe into the affair for the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee he chaired. But the Tennessee Republican’s inquiry was stymied by Democrats who forced the committee to limit the time frame for the investigation. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies, under pressure from the Clinton White House, also slow-rolled requests for information on the Chinese plan to the committee.
Of the time limit, the panel’s final report said that “this obstruction, combined with the sheer complexity of the investigation, made this deadline the single greatest obstacle faced by the committee’s inquiry.”
Democrats minimized the Chinese election funding as inconclusive. Typical was the statement by thenDemocratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut in 1997: “I have not seen any information that leads me to believe China was involved in that kind of direct funneling of money into campaigns.”
Two years later, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence uncovered direct linkage. The committee’s 1999 report stated categorically the Chinese launched a covert political influence campaign in 1995 after the Clinton administration allowed a visit to the U.S. by Taiwanese President Lee Tung-hui.