- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 28, 2001

Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, Democrat of New Jersey, currently under the hot lights of a federal investigation into whether he pocketed wads of cash from a political supporter, not to mention thousands of dollars worth of luxury knickknacks, reportedly put it this way to his Democratic Senate colleagues at a recent private meeting: Only Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, could possibly understand what hes going through.

It has become a topic of speculation as to whether Mrs. Clinton´s eyes flashed fire or ice at Mr. Torricelli´s comment. Had she come back from her Dominican idyll for this to have her past as a veritable human slide under the federal microscope invoked for the benefit of a Democrat in jeopardy who wasn´t even her husband? Mrs. Clinton, it has been reported, "had no immediate comment." Small wonder. It sometimes takes a while to hoist a gaping jaw back into alignment.

Now that Mr. Torricelli mentions it, though, there are several striking similarities in his case and Mrs. Clinton´s. Both he, as a senator, and she, as a first lady and senator-elect, have come under scrutiny for accepting expensive gifts. The difference, as Fox News contributor Dick Morris has pointed out, is "who held what job when." Mrs. Clinton, legally if not ethically, salted away her hoard before being sworn in as a senator subject to Senate rules. She may dine on her new Limoges with impunity. On the other hand, Mr. Torricelli has been accused of taking possibly illegal gifts as a senator, charges which, if proven, could lead to serious penalties.

In the cash-for-access department, the lines blur. As newsmax.com´s Carl Limbacher has written in a piece on the Clinton-Torricelli similarities, both Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Torricelli have been accused by Asian businessmen Johnny Chung and David Chang, respectively of selling influence and access, charges which came to light as a result of the Justice Department´s campaign-finance probe of the 1996 election cycle. But where the Justice Department declined to pursue the allegations against Mrs. Clinton (and Johnny Chung´s infamous $50,000 check, for example), it is showing no such reticence with Mr. Torricelli.

According to press accounts, Mr. Chang has charged that during the middle to late 1990s the period during which he claims to have showered Mr. Torricelli with Italian suits, a Rolex watch, envelopes of cash and the like Mr. Chang received vigorous assistance from Mr. Torricelli in furthering Mr. Chang´s business pursuits. Among these was Mr. Chang´s attempt to buy one of South Korea´s largest insurance companies through his company Panacom. While Mr. Torricelli´s office has denied anything more than the most perfunctory role in Panacom´s dealings, the New York Times this week presented a detailed account of what appears to have been the senator´s aggressive lobbying efforts on Panacom´s behalf in South Korea, efforts that led the American ambassador to apologize for Mr. Torricelli´s behavior to a South Korean government minister.

Mr. Torricelli has angrily and emphatically denied all wrong-doing, counter-charging that Mr. Chang, who has pleaded guilty to charges that he made $53,700 in illegal campaign contributions to Mr. Torricelli´s 1996 campaign and is now cooperating in the government´s inquiry, will say anything to reduce his jail sentence. Perhaps not. But meanwhile, Mr. Torricelli isn´t taking any chances, having assembled a high-powered legal team led by Theodore V. Wells Jr., who in 1998 represented former Agricultural Secretary Mike Espy in his successful fight against federal bribery charges, and Mark F. Pomerantz, a former top lieutenant to United States Attorney Mary Jo White.

If these allegations persist, Mr. Torricelli will, of course, have to do more than simply denounce his accuser to clear his name. That may have done wonders once upon a time for his colleague, Mrs. Clinton, but as Mr. Torricelli has probably already discovered, not everybody gets to play by the same rules.

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