The Blog


11:00 PM, Mar 30, 1997 • By BYRON YORK
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

IT WAS ENOUGH TO LEAVE A Washington Post reader baffled. On March 16, the paper ran a front-page story featuring an interview with Wang Jun, the notorious Chinese arms dealer who sipped coffee at the White House during the Clinton reelection campaign. In a conversation with Post reporter Steven Mufson, Wang answered one of the most intriguing questions of the campaign- finance scandal: How did he come to be invited to the White House? Wang said he was asked by Lehman Brothers, the investment bank, and its Washington managing partner Ernest Green, a longtime friend of President Clinton. The day after the coffee, according to the Post and other accounts, Green gave $ 50,000 to the Democratic National Committee. That led many observers -- including some investigators in Congress -- to suspect the money might actually have been a laundered contribution from Wang, given in return for access to the president.

In the Post interview, Wang suggested otherwise. He told the paper that he wasn't terribly interested in going to the White House -- it was his hosts who had set up the visit. "I couldn't say no," Wang said. And once there, he didn't find the company very interesting. "There wasn't much to talk about. Just a brief handshake with Clinton." Now, if that was the case, why would Wang have wanted to slip the president $ 50,000, using Green as cover? It didn't make sense, and based on the new information from Wang, the Post suggested that the affair was less a case of a Chinese arms dealer's trying to influence the American election than of Green's trying to use his connections to swing a deal with a top Chinese executive.

Then, just two days later, the Post ran another Wang Jun story: Wang's finance company, the China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC), released a statement to "clarify that Lehman Brothers had nothing to do with arranging the meeting with Mr. Clinton . . ." Instead, CITIC said, it was Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie, the ambitious Little Rock restaurateur and would- be international financier, who asked that Wang be invited to the coffee. Ernest Green's name -- and the $ 50,000 contribution -- did not appear anywhere in the story.

The two accounts were confusing, to say the least. Which was it? The answer may lie with Green, whose story could change current perceptions about the Wang episode and its role in the Clinton campaign-finance scandal.

Green is widely known as a civil-rights pioneer. He was one of the "Little Rock Nine," the first students to desegregate Central High School in the 1950s. (A few years ago, the Disney Channel even made a movie about his experience, The Ernest Green Story.) He held a top job in the Labor Department during the Carter administration and spent several years in the diversity-consulting business before joining Lehman Brothers in the late 1980s. He has been a major fund-raiser for the Democratic party -- so big that his name was on the list of the party's top 10 supporters in a recently released memo from then-DNC fund-raising chief Terry McAuliffe to the White House.

According to his lawyer, in late 1995, Green -- like many other investment bankers -- was looking to make business deals in Asia. Green met Wang in the fall of that year during a business trip to Hong Kong (Green's fellow Arkansan Charlie Trie was also at the event where the two were introduced). After returning home, Green wrote Wang a letter: "I . . . feel there are many business opportunities we may pursue." (This Nov. 6, 1995, letter is now in the hands of congressional investigators.) "If your schedule will allow, I would like to extend an invitation to you to visit the USA during the month of December. . . . Please let me know at your earliest convenience if this will be possible."

Wang did not visit in December. Then on January 6, 1996, Charlie Trie wrote his own letter to Wang, saying, "I . . . feel there are many business opportunities for us to pursue together," and inviting him to visit during January -- "I would like you to meet with Lehman Brother's [sic] Managing Director, Mr. Ernest Green and my other business contacts . . ." Wang finally decided to travel to the United States, and when he applied for a visa, he included the two letters with his paperwork. The State Department granted the visa and Wang hit American shores on February 1.