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Did China try to buy U.S. influence?

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The FBI briefed two National Security Council officials last June on apparent Chinese efforts to buy U.S. political influence but told them to keep the information to themselves, leaving President Clinton in the dark, the White House said Monday.

The disclosure added a bizarre new twist to the campaign-financing controversy dogging Clinton. White House spokesman Mike McCurry said he could not explain why national security information was kept from the president and other policymakers.Meanwhile, China dismissed suggestions it had paid political donations to the U.S. Democratic Party and slammed Washington for taking what it said were irresponsible and wrong actions over the issue.

A senior Chinese foreign ministry official had complained to the U.S. charge d'affairs in Beijing that U.S. actions had created bad feeling and undermined relations, the official Xinhua news agency said Monday.

McCurry was responding to questions raised by a Washington Post report Sunday that the FBI warned the White House and six members of Congress about possible illegal campaign contributions from China last year.

"The briefing was received by career professionals at the NSC in June 1996. It dealt with allegations of Chinese attampts to funnel money to congressional candidates," McCurry told reporters.

He added that those conducting the briefing asked that the information "not be disseminated or briefed higher up the chain of command here at the White House" and that the NSC officials "respected that admonishment."

When a reporter said it was "appalling" that the FBI would keep information from Clinton, McCurry replied: "That's an idea that has not gone unnoticed."