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The only October surprise, it turns out, was the open defiance of a federal court by the Democratic National Committee and indirectly, the Clinton administration.

On the Republican side, Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr has put off actions, if any, against the White House on the Whitewater and FBI scandals until after election.

The GOP put out the line that Starr wanted to ensure that his actions not be attributed to a Republican desire to influence the presidential election. Ah-hem.

The Democrats can't be bothered with such pretenses.

In an early flush of victory, the Democrats told Federal Judge Royce C. Lamberth last Friday they were waiting until the day after the election to cooperate with him.

Lamberth wants to see John Huang, a man who was golden when he put the touch on Indonesian, Taiwanese and Chinese donors to Clinton's campaign.

He was so good at it that he moved from a sensitive trade post under the late Commerce Secretary Ron Brown to be deputy national finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee. As such, he brought Clinton's campaign $5 million.

Huang also raised $140,000 at a fund-raiser in a Buddhist temple where Vice President Gore played the starring role. Gore is now saying he didn't know the event was a fund-raiser. He probably was the only one there who didn't know it.

The court wants to ask Huang whether he used his commerce job to raise money for Clinton.

The national interest, and the interest of those in the Rust Belt who saw their jobs mysteriously fly to Asia, is whether Huang, the Commerce Department and the White House are, in effect, trading American jobs for campaign cash.

Lamberth sent U.S. marshals looking for Huang on Wednesday, and they returned to court saying they couldn't find him.

Then the judge asked to see the counsel of the Democratic National Committee, Joseph Sandler, and he first refused to come.

This was Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, the Democrats' general chairman, thumbing his nose at the court. Dodd is an attorney, like Clinton.

Only in Washington, where suburban-dwelling attorneys outnumber the city's taxpaying citizens, can these lawyers treat a judge so contemptuously.

Then Lamberth said he would subpoena Sandler. Only then did Dodd's man Sandler show up in court. Sandler then claimed he couldn't find the $5 Million Man.

White House press secretary Mike McCurry chuckled when he heard that Huang had slipped town.

Maybe McCurry knew the White House press corps wasn't interested in the story.

Huang later somehow hired a private attorney, John Keeney, who told the court Thursday he hadn't discussed the subpoena with his new client. On Friday, Keeney arrogantly told the court Huang wouldn't show up until the day after the election.

Then later in the day, with the Republican National Committee papering the city with "Wanted" posters carrying Huang's picture and the legend, "Have You Seen This Man?" the Democrats suddenly relented.

His second set of lawyers said Huang will be in town today to accept a subpoena for questioning later. Lamberth had issued the subpoena at the request of Judicial Watch Inc., which became interested in Huang after his activities, including the possibility that he illegally raised $300,000, were disclosed.

The advocacy group is clearly conservative and would probably like to see Clinton lose. It may well be nothing more than a Republican front organization.

Lamberth is a Reagan judge, appointed by the Gipper nine years ago.

But that fact didn't excuse Clinton or Dodd for defying a federal judge, even on a civil subpoena. A national political organization fronting for the president has hit a dangerous new low when it tells the country it can go around picking and choosing which judges it will obey.

Some of the Buddhist temple money was plainly laundered, and some foreign gifts may involve criminality.

The Huang story was not raised by the Republicans. Digging into his background required more enterprise than the freeze-dried Dole campaign is capable of. It was disclosed by the Los Angeles Times a couple of weeks ago.

The odd thing about Huang's disappearance -- with the obvious connivance of the Democratic National Committee -- is that Huang's cooperation with the court cannot possibly influence the election.

What Lamberth will probably do today, if Huang actually does show up, is arrange for the taking of sworn testimony by civil attorneys and the inventorying of documents.

Under ordinary circumstances, this will take weeks. So none of the political meat of the case would likely come out in the few remaining days before the election anyway.

So the Democratic National Committee's behavior was disturbingly close to that of G. Gordon Liddy and Col. Oliver North. The scary part of this is that the president's closest allies, like Dodd, were acting like this when all eyes were on them because of the election.

What will they be like in a second term when Clinton no longer needs to go before the electorate?

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