- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2002

On Monday, this page expressed concern that the Senate Ethics Committee was preparing to whitewash serious misconduct charges against New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli. One of Mr. Torricelli's Senate Democratic colleagues, acting Chairman Daniel Inouye, had complained about serving on the ethics panel, and expressed a desire to abruptly conclude hearings into whether Mr. Torricelli had improperly accepted cash and gifts from a political contributor after hearing from one witness: Mr. Torricelli.

On Monday, Mr. Inouye said that if the ethics panel failed to reach a decision quickly on Mr. Torricelli, he would suspend the investigation until after the fall elections. Such a scheme, of course, would have had a huge upside for Mr. Inouye and his fellow Democrats. If Mr. Torricelli were to lose his reelection bid, the Democrats could lose control of the Senate.

We are gratified that Sen. Inouye did not succumb to such partisan instincts. On Tuesday night, his ethics committee announced that it had "severely admonished" Mr. Torricelli for violating gift rules. The admonishment constitutes a serious humiliation for a man who has long flaunted the perks of power while flouting the rules.

The Ethics Committee's ruling constitutes a scathing rebuke of Mr. Torricelli's misconduct, in particular his receipt of cash and gifts from David Chang, a campaign supporter and onetime friend of the senator.

"After evaluating the extensive body of evidence before it and your testimony, the committee is troubled by incongruities, inconsistencies, and conflicts, particularly concerning actions taken by you, which were or could have been [potentially beneficial] to Mr. Chang," the full committee wrote to Mr. Torricelli. The committee also told Mr. Torricelli that "your actions and failure to act led to violations of Senate rules (and related statutes) and created at least the appearance of impropriety."

The New Jersey Democrat seemed at least somewhat chastened. When he took to the Senate floor at approximately 8:00 Tuesday night albeit late enough to prevent coverage of the story on the evening newscasts Mr. Torricelli apologized to his colleagues and promised to pay for gifts from Chang. "I want my colleagues in the Senate to know I agree with the committee's conclusions and fully accept their findings and take full personal responsibility," he said.

Unfortunately, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, apparently more concerned with staying in power than with Mr. Torricelli's ethical transgressions, has attempted to misrepresent the ethics panel's findings. Mr. Daschle asserts that the panel's findings made "clear" that unspecified "sensational allegations" made against Mr. Torricelli by Chang have "been proven false and without foundation." The Senate leader's attempt to publicly distort and understate an Ethics Committee ruling was itself a serious breach of his institutional duties.

It should hardly come as a surprise, however, that Mr. Daschle would seek to discredit the charges against Mr. Torricelli, because he's done so in the past. Roll Call reported in January that the majority leader "orchestrated an outpouring of public support for Torricelli," enlisting Democratic senators like Joseph Biden and Patrick Leahy to participate in a campaign to impugn the motives of the Justice Department, which had been investigating misconduct charges against Mr. Torricelli.

Yesterday, however, Mr. Daschle seemed to be trying to distance himself from his own misrepresentations of the Ethics Committee findings, saying he agreed with the panel's sharply worded criticisms of Mr. Torricelli. Between now and the elections, Sen. Daschle's words on this subject must be carefully monitored. He must not be allowed to undercut his own Ethics Committee's rulings for partisan reasons.

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