Clinton angry FBI kept mum about Chinese

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House officials and the FBI clashed in a rare public quarrel Monday after President Clinton complained he should have been alerted about the agency’s suspicions that the Chinese government might be trying to influence U.S. elections.
“The president should know,” Clinton asserted.
However, the FBI said it “placed no restriction whatsoever” about information going up the chain of command when it told two officials at the White House National Security Council staff last June that China might make illegal contributions to congressional campaigns.
But the White House officials insisted that the two officials clearly recall being urged “not to disseminate the information outside the briefing room.”
“Therefore, the White House considers the FBI’s statement to be in error,” presidential spokesman Mike McCurry said, leaving the FBI and the White House at an awkward impasse at day’s end.
The supposedly secret China briefing was the latest development in a series of White House embarrassments on the campaign fund-raising front. Even though the allegations were of Chinese contributions aimed at congressional races, Clinton and senior aides suggested they might have been more careful about accepting foreign donations from Asian sources had they known about the alleged Chinese scheme.
The president said that “it would have provoked … a red flag on my part.”
The alleged withholding of information from Clinton seemed even stranger in the wake of revelations that the FBI gave classified briefings — to members of the NSC staff last year and to a member of Congress five years earlier — warning that China was trying to influence members of Congress with campaign contributions.
Before the FBI issued its statement, Clinton complained that he should have been told about the agency’s suspicions. “It didn’t happen. It should have happened. It was a mistake.”
However, the FBI statement released Monday evening said:
“The FBI placed no restriction whatsoever on the dissemination up the chain-of-command at the NSC on any information provided to the NSC senior staff by the FBI during the June 3, 1996 briefing.”
It said senior officials of the bureau’s national security division briefed two senior staff members of the NSC “about the possible covert activities of a foreign government in the United States.” One of the people receiving the briefing was an FBI agent detailed to the NSC.
Government sources identified the FBI detailee as Edward J. Appel and the other NSC staffer as Rand Beers.
Responding to the FBI’s statement, McCurry said the two NSC officials have been questioned by the White House legal counsel.
“They are adamant in recalling specifically that they were urged not to disseminate the information outside the briefing room,” he said.
On Capitol Hill, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said FBI agents approached her in San Francisco in late 1991 and early 1992 with a caution that China “is going to attempt to get funds into campaigns in the United States.”
Pelosi said she heard nothing more about the issue until last June, when the FBI again came to her with similar warnings. Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California and Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York said they also received FBI briefings last year.
McCurry asserted that the FBI instructed the national security officials to keep the information to themselves, secret even from their White House bosses and the president himself. “I’m told that’s not routine,” the White House spokesman said.