Some scandals find traction in Washington, others fizzle. The Taiwangate affair–which involves a $100 million secret Taiwan government slush fund that financed intelligence, propaganda, and influence activities within the United States and elsewhere–seems to be in the latter category at the moment. The beneficiaries of the lack of attention include three prominent Bush appointees at the State Department who, before joining the Bush administration, received money from this account. And one of these officials, John Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, submitted pro-Taiwan testimony to Congress in the 1990s without revealing he was a paid consultant to Taiwan. His work for Taiwan, it turns out, was financed by this slush fund.

On April 2, The Nation reported that news stories out of Asia, citing leaked classified documents, showed that former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui had established an illegal covert fund when he was in office and that several million dollars from it apparently were used to pay for a pro-Taiwan lobbying campaign in Washington mounted by Cassidy and Associates, a powerful lobbying firm. The clandestine account, according to the Asian media reports, underwrote the travels of Carl Ford, Jr., a former senior CIA analyst who was a consultant to the Cassidy and Associates effort. The Pacific Forum, the Honolulu-based armed of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also received money–perhaps $100,000–from the slush fund, when James Kelly, a past National Security Council officer, headed the Forum. Forty-thousand dollars of that money, CSIS confirmed, was sent to Harvard to cover the costs of a fellowship for a former Japanese defense official. In May 2001, Bush appointed Ford to be assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, and Kelly to be assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. (For more details, see the “Capital Games” dispatch preceding this one, “Taiwangate?–Bush Appointees Linked to Secret Slush Funds.”)

On April 5, The Washington Post published a similar story, reporting that Taiwanese officials said the fund had paid $30,000 to John Bolton for research papers he wrote in the mid-1990s on how Taiwan could win readmission into the United Nations.

Neither the State Department nor the three State officials who reportedly received money from Lee’s slush fund have felt compelled to make a statement regarding the scandal. None of the officials would answer any questions from The Nation or the Post on the matter.

The day the Post story appeared, a reporter at the daily State Department briefing asked Philip Reeker, the deputy spokesman for the department, to comment on the Post’s article and the involvement of “State Department officials like John Bolton and Jim Kelly” in the slush fund.

“No, I don’t think I read the story,” Reeker said, “and I don’t think we would comment on things that involve people prior to their work at the State Department, their official capacity. So that is just not something we would have anything on.”

Didn’t read a front-page story on a massive and secret Taiwanese endeavor to obtain influence in the United States and other nations that mentions three senior State Department officials by name? Reeker should be canned for that. But it does not take too keen an observer to see the damage-control strategy being employed. Bolton, Ford and Kelly refuse to take calls, while the State Department flacks say this all happened before we–and the three men–got here, so it’s none of our business. And everyone hopes there are no more revelations and the story fades.

That’s not a bad strategy, so far. Bolton and Company might be able to ride this out without much discomfort.

But the Taiwangate stories out of Asia also revive an issue Bolton encountered during his March 29, 2001, confirmation hearing held by the Senate foreign relations committee. During that session, he was asked if he had ever served as consultant to the Taiwanese government. Bolton said he was paid $10,000 a year in 1994, 1995 and 1996 by Taiwan to write research papers on Taiwan-U.N. membership issues. With Lee’s slush fund still a secret, there was no reason for senators to question Bolton about the ultimate source of the payments. Instead, Democratic senators were more interested in whether Bolton–who had previously called for U.S. recognition of Taiwan as a separate nation (thus, opposing the U.S. official position of “one-China”) and who had received money from Taiwan–would have to recuse himself from Taiwan-related issues. Bolton provided the obligatory reassurances. The Democrats were also concerned with his arch-conservative approach to arms control and foreign policy issues. (They had cause to fear. See the March 11, 2002, “Capital Games” dispatch below, “Bush’s New Nuclear Weapon Plan: A Shot at Nonproliferation.”) For his part, Senator Jesse Helms, then chairman of the committee, declared, “John Bolton is the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon, or what the Bible describes as the final battle between good and evil in this world.”

Bolton acknowledged his financial connection to Taiwan, but he did not mention he had previously appeared before Congress and given testimony supporting Taiwan without revealing then he was on that nation’s payroll. On July 14, 1994, and August 3, 1995, Bolton testified before the House foreign affairs committee. Each time he identified himself as a former assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs. (At the second appearance, he also referred to himself as president of the National Policy Forum, a conservative think tank.) His prepared testimony for each session began the same way: “I believe that the United States should support the efforts of the Republic of China on Taiwan to become a full member of the United Nations.” In neither instance did he note he was a paid adviser to the Taiwan government.

Shouldn’t Bolton have told the House committee in 1994 and 1995 that he was a consultant to Taiwan–that he was not only a policy advocate with a long-term interest in the subject? These appearances also raise the question of whether he should have registered as a foreign agent. At the time of his confirmation hearing last year, a “source close to the State Department” told The Washington Post that Bolton, a lawyer, had been exempted from registering under the Foreign Agents Registration Act because he was “providing legal services.” Indeed, the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration Unit notes on its website that “lawyers engaged in legal representation of foreign principals in the courts or similar type proceedings” are exempt. But Bolton was not representing Taiwan within a legal forum, and the Justice Department unit says a lawyer is exempt “so long as the attorney does not try to influence policy at the behest of his client.” Bolton was obviously hoping to influence policy when he came before the House foreign affairs committee. But was he doing so on behalf of Taiwan?

According to that “source close to the State Department,” Bolton claimed he was not paid or directed by Taiwan to testify before the House committee. Still, this is a matter Bolton should address himself. And Bolton, Carl Ford, and Jim Kelly ought to respond about their role–witting or unwitting–in Taiwan’s secret campaign to gain influence in Washington and elsewhere. Doesn’t the American public deserve to know what Taiwan was up to? Whether it took advantage of past and future U.S. officials? Moreover, the State Department and President Bush should have something to say about Taiwan’s clandestine project to shape U.S. policy. Yet there is little pressure on any of these parties to talk. A search of the major U.S. newspapers turns up no references to the Taiwan scandal after the Post piece.

The scandal out of Taiwan is ripe for congressional digging. How far was the slush slopped? Were any other former or current U.S. officials exploited by Taiwan? And think of it this way: what would the Republicans have done had three senior Clinton State Department officials been handed money from a foreign leader’s secret operations account? Taiwangate has been causing much noise in Asia. But not even a page-one story in the Post is enough to stir a fuss here. How lucky for the Taiwangate Three–and the man who appointed them.