’90s Clinton Scandal Figure Barred from U.S., Still Giving Money to Clintons

Bill, Hillary and James Riady

Students of the big Clinton scandals of the 1990s will remember the name of James Riady, an Indonesian businessman who ultimately pled guilty to making illegal donations to Bill Clinton’s political campaigns.

He was barred from entering the United States, in addition to paying the largest penalty in the history of campaign finance violations. An email disclosed by WikiLeaks demonstrates that Riady is still feeding money into the Clinton machine.

Riady, head of the Lippo banking conglomerate, entered a felony plea in 2001 stating that he “knowingly and willfully conspired and agreed to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing and defeating the lawful functions and duties of the FEC through deceitful and dishonest means.”

Riady’s lawyers played up his voluntary cooperation with the U.S. justice system, noting that he could have avoided prosecution as an Indonesian citizen, because there was no extradition treaty between Indonesia and the U.S. They pointed fingers of blame at a Lippo California official whose name is also well-known to veterans of the Nineties scandal wars, John Huang, and said Riady had merely reimbursed Huang for funds illegally pumped into Democratic political campaigns, prominently including Bill Clinton’s 1992 White House bid.

The L.A. Times summarized the relationship between the Riadys, Huang, the Lippo Group, and the Clintons in a January 2001 article about James Riady’s guilty plea:

Mochtar Riady, the family patriarch, and his son James have known Clinton for more than 20 years, since they were investors in a Little Rock, Ark., bank and Clinton was governor. During Clinton’s first term as president, James Riady visited the White House at least 20 times.

The Riadys helped place Huang at the Commerce Department in 1994 and then at the Democratic National Committee. As a DNC official, Huang helped raise $3.4 million from the Asian American community, more than half of which ultimately was returned because DNC officials could not verify that it came from legal, domestic donors.

The Riady family, its companies and their associates gave the Democratic Party more than $840,000 from 1992 through 1996.

Foreign corporations and non-citizens aren’t supposed to make those kinds of donations, which is one reason the Clintons developed their alternative funding system of giving ridiculously overpriced speeches to foreign entities, and using their enormous Clinton Foundation financial apparatus to digest overseas money.

Another legendary name from Nineties scandalmania was tangled up in the Riady scandal: Webb Hubbell. As the L.A. Times wrote:

The Riady family and its companies also were connected to Clinton friend and onetime Associate Atty. Gen. Webster L. Hubbell. One of the companies controlled by James Riady made a $100,000 payment to Hubbell, who after leaving the Justice Department under an ethics cloud served 18 months in federal prison for defrauding the Rose Law Firm of Little Rock when he and Hillary Rodham Clinton were partners there.

As a result of his plea agreement, James Riady was barred from traveling to the United States for at least two years, and agreed to perform 400 hours of community service, while the Lippo Group paid a groundbreaking $8.6 million fine.

There was more than just money involved in the Riady/Lippo debacle, as there have long been suspicions the Chinese government was involved, using Lippo’s donations to buy access to American missile technology. There’s no question China got the technology it wanted; in a phrase that will sound familiar after WikiLeaks documented the special treatment Clinton Foundation donors received from Hillary Clinton’s State Department, it was the “quid pro quo” that could never be proven.

Some believe Riady’s plea-bargain agreement was a successful effort to stonewall a more serious investigation. The deal was signed less than two weeks before George W. Bush became President.

Riady made it back onto American soil in 2009, with a visit to Arkansas that was kept quiet. As the Washington Post reported in 2010: “Riady’s return to the United States poses a prickly question for Hillary Clinton’s State Department: How and why did a foreign billionaire stained by Clinton-era scandals get a U.S. visa after being kept out for so long under the Bush administration?”

The short answer is that some career people at the State Department were very uncomfortable with Riady visiting the U.S. and refreshing his ties to the Clinton power structure, but apparently no one could come up with a solid reason to stop him, his travel ban having technically expired around 2004.

According to what Riady told the Washington Post, the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta recommended the Department of Homeland Security give him a waiver to obtain a six-month visitor’s visa in late 2008, nominally to attend “family graduation ceremonies,” and DHS “concurred.”

Interestingly, no one involved in this process seemed very eager to discuss their decision-making process. The State Department insisted that Secretary of State Clinton was unaware of his visits.

Riady’s second visit to the U.S. was hardly limited to “family graduation ceremonies.” Among other things, he registered for a New York meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, a meeting which both Hillary Clinton and President Obama attended. He told the Post he didn’t actually attend the meeting because he couldn’t fit it into his schedule.

He did, however, pay $20,000 to become a member of the Clinton Global Initiative. And now comes the WikiLeaks revelation that, according to a December 2012 email from the Clinton Foundation, Riady is funding a “retrofit program in Indonesia” with the Foundation’s Asia Climate Group. This information is part of a financial statement for Clinton Foundation board members attached to the email.

This email was sent to Clinton’s campaign CEO John Podesta and her chief of staff Cheryl Mills, among others, so it will be interesting to watch Hillary Clinton claim she was completely unaware of Riady’s involvement.

Incidentally, Riady, who is now about 58-years-old, is very outspokenly Christian. His response to the Washington Post’s 2010 questions about his under-the-radar visits to the United States included assurances that “the teachings of Christ inform all that I do.” He is noted for making sizable donations to the small Christian community in Muslim-majority Jakarta. He’s very particular about how his plea agreement did not include any confessions of deliberate immoral behavior. 

On the other hand, he has a long reputation as a very aggressive businessman, whose sense of Christian morality doesn’t seem to complicate his business practices much. He was described as “Jekyll and Hyde,” a “God-fearing Christian” in the robber-baron tradition of John D. Rockefeller, to the Washington Post by one of his friends.

There is an old saying that if you mix an ounce of sewage with a gallon of ice cream, the result is a gallon of sewage. The Clinton Foundation operates on the reverse of that principle, sanctifying all kinds of suspicious financial arrangements by inserting a little dash of charity. If you ask tough questions about what the Foundation does with most of its money, you must be a monster who hates the poor souls the Clinton Foundation is trying to help. It seems like the kind of operation that would have plenty of room for a 21st Century version of John D. Rockefeller.


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