- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 1, 2002

The Republican challenger in New Jersey's Senate race said yesterday that Democratic Sen. Robert G. Torricelli is "unfit for office," a day after the Senate Select Committee on Ethics reprimanded the incumbent for accepting expensive gifts.

Businessman Doug Forrester said at a news conference in West Windsor, N.J., that Mr. Torricelli is "engaging in an ongoing campaign of deceit and misinformation" and "has shown himself to be unfit for office."

"Despite Mr. Torricelli's long and continued denials, the ethics committee a panel composed of three Democrats and three Republicans, chaired by a Democrat made clear their judgment that Mr. Torricelli has not been telling the truth regarding his acceptance of illegal gifts and his failure to disclose them," Mr. Forrester said.

Republicans plan to capitalize on Mr. Torricelli's ethics problems in a race they view again as competitive. Mr. Torricelli's campaign, meanwhile, insisted the case is closed.

But a spokeswoman said yesterday afternoon that Mr. Torricelli had yet to repay former campaign donor David Chang, as directed by the ethics panel, up to $2,000 for the retail cost of a 52-inch-screen TV, a stereo CD player and several pairs of earrings.

"We are working with the committee to identify a process" for repayment, said Torricelli spokeswoman Debra DeShong. "It is in the works."

Chang is serving an 18-month prison term for making illegal donations to the senator's 1996 campaign.

Democratic leaders tried to find positive news in the Ethics Committte's rebuke.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said it was time to move on and said that Mr. Torricelli was still leading in the polls.

"Senator Torricelli is an extraordinary senator and candidate and I have no doubt that he will rebound and will continue to lead in the polls as he is this morning," Mr. Daschle said. "I believe that at the end of the day the people of New Jersey recognize the tremendous leadership he's provided and the issues upon which he's worked and will re-elect him to another term."

But a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said there was no fresh poll showing Mr. Torricelli in the lead.

"There's nothing new," said DSCC spokeswoman Tovah Ravitz-Meehan.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terence McAuliffe said internal polls have shown Mr. Torricelli with a 12- to 14-point lead. But a Philadelphia KYW-TV poll taken last week, before the negative news about Mr. Torricelli, showed the candidates tied at 43 percent. Mr. Torricelli has yet to break the 50-percent threshold in independent polling and has been dogged by the accusations of improprieties for four years.

The panel did not address Chang's assertions that he also gave Mr. Torricelli expensive suits, bundles of cash and a Rolex watch. But the members said Mr. Torricelli's actions showed a lack of regard for Senate rules and created "at least the appearance of impropriety."

"The Committee is troubled by incongruities, inconsistencies, and conflicts, particularly concerning actions taken by you which were or could have been of potential benefit to Mr. Chang," the three-page letter said. "You are hereby severely admonished."

Mr. Torricelli apologized on the Senate floor Tuesday night and said he agreed with the committee's conclusion, but also that "at no time did I accept any gifts or violate any Senate rules."

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