The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

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.

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