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Democrats and their fellow travelers in the media are doing their best to D'Amato-ize the Senate hearings on the way the White House and Congress raised money for last year's elections.

D'Amato-ize? I invented the word to describe how this community can trivialize an investigation into something very important.

Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., headed a probe into attempts by Treasury Department officials to alert the Clinton White House about impending criminal investigations into the Whitewater affair.

My point is not to put a halo on D'Amato. But any fair account of his hearings would show they resulted in the resignations of the undersecretary of the treasury and the department's chief counsel, and possibly prompted the early retirement of Secretary Lloyd Bentsen.

Yet the barrage of criticism of D'Amato, personally, put the black hat on the senator and not on the perpetrators of conduct approaching a criminal obstruction of justice.

This market-tested process is now undermining the credibility and importance of the hearings being conducted by Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.

The networks are all but ignoring the Thompson hearings into how massive foreign contributions -- unlawful gifts -- wound up at the White House and the Democratic National Committee, and indirectly went into the campaign for President Clinton and Vice President Gore.

Some reporters are disgracing themselves by distorting what they hear during the proceedings.

A case in point was a story printed Thursday on the prior day's testimony.

This stomach-turning story was on the front page of a newspaper that won fame for pursuing for two straight years the Watergate story that unhorsed Republican Richard Nixon.

The testimony was about Democratic operative John Huang -- the former top Commerce Department and Lippo bank lieutenant whose current whereabouts are known to his lawyer.

Huang, a frequent caller at the White House and the Chinese Embassy, channeled a lot of money to the 1996 White House campaign from Indonesia and probably China.

Thompson wants to know why this very shadowy individual, with close ties to state-owned businesses in China, was getting briefed by the Central Intelligence Agency and fed raw CIA reports about China containing names of our agents there.

The paper said "Republicans" on the Thompson committee "portrayed Huang as an unqualified political appointee," fortifying conventional wisdom that the probe is motivated only by GOP partisan concerns.

The obvious fact was that these characterizations of Huang did not come from "Republicans" on the panel. They came in the sworn testimony of Jeff Garten, formerly the undersecretary of commerce for international trade in the Clinton administration.

An author, scholar and international banker, Garten is now the dean of the business school at Yale University. He testified Huang did not need the CIA data.

The nation's newspaper of record, based in New York City, also cast aspersions on "the investigating committee's majority Republicans" for trying to undermine Huang's reputation.

This from a newspaper that hired the nation's leading reporter gumshoe, Seymour Hersch, to track down Nixon & Company 25 years ago.

The Democrats trotted out their icons and deacons to distort the objectives of the hearings, which is to track down illegal gifts to the campaigns and uncover any efforts by foreign governments to influence national policy unlawfully.

First, Sen. Bob Torricelli, D-N.J., complained of GOP Asian bashing and recalled how offended he was at attacks on Italo-Americans during the McClellan anti-crime hearings. Torricelli was in kindergarten when these hearings were conducted.

Next came Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, whose partisan whining about Thompson made him look more like the Keating Five conspirator he was than a former Marine and astronaut with the right stuff.

Enter gentle Joe Lieberman, the junior Democratic senator from Connecticut and minority member of the Thompson panel. Lieberman cleverly used Tim Russert's "Meet the Press" show July 13 to cast doubts on Sen. Thompson's opening statement that China funneled money to the 1996 Democratic campaigns.

Then he ate his words Monday when the lights were down.

At a briefing with reporters Friday, Lieberman was brilliant. He claimed the Justice Department is aggressively pursuing wrongdoing by Huang and others. But said he learned nothing in a private briefing with FBI agents about when they would -- if ever -- bring indictments.

Justice is working hard, he insisted, because they oppose appointment of a special prosecutor. He volunteered that the nuns in the Buddhist temple gave Vice President Gore money that was "laundered" in April 1996.

But where, he asked, did the temple get the money, originally? The FBI doesn't know, he said.

"We're talking about the '96 elections, and this is only July, 1997," he explained. What's the hurry; right?

You'd never know the bureau had 23,000 people working for it. Everybody loves Joe Lieberman. He has all the bases covered.

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