- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

An investigation into accusations that Sen. Robert G. Torricelli violated federal campaign finance laws has ended with no charges being filed, prosecutors said yesterday.

U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, a Clinton administration appointee who leaves office next week, said she made the decision to drop the inquiry following “an exhaustive investigation” by prosecutors in her New York office, along with the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Customs Service.

Information gathered during the lengthy probe has been referred to the Senate Ethics Committee, Mrs. White said without elaboration in a one-page statement.

Deputy Attorney General Larry D. Thompson, in a brief statement yesterday, said he was “satisfied” a thorough investigation of the New Jersey Democrat had been conducted.

“I was advised by U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White and her office of their decision in this matter. I am satisfied that after a thorough investigation, Mrs. White and her office have appropriately exercised their prosecutorial discretion, in keeping with the department’s long-standing guidelines,” Mr. Thompson said.

Mr. Torricelli issued a brief statement expressing what he described as “the enormous sense of appreciation I feel for the so many friends and supporters in New Jersey who stood by me during this ordeal.”

He previously had denounced the accusations as untrue, saying at one point, “I have been publicly raped.” He called the investigation a “smear campaign” and bitterly refuted accusations that he violated federal campaign finance laws by padding his salary with questionable gifts, including Italian-made suits, an $8,000 Rolex watch and gold cuff links.

Mr. Torricelli also accused the Justice Department, under Attorney General John Ashcroft, of planting stories and leaking details of the investigation to the media, particularly the New York Times.

The department denied the accusation.

The Torricelli investigation focused on accusations that the senator received gifts and cash from David Chang, described as a businessman and a former Torricelli supporter and longtime friend.

Chang told prosecutors Mr. Torricelli accepted gifts in return for intervening in Chang’s business deals in North and South Korea. He cooperated with federal investigators as part of a plea agreement in which he admitted illegally contributing more than $53,000 to Mr. Torricelli’s 1996 campaign.

Federal campaign-finance laws prohibit public officials from taking gifts in return for specific official actions, even if those actions are merely promised and not taken. Rules established by the Senate Ethics Committee do allow some gifts from long-standing friends.

Despite Mr. Torricelli’s ongoing legal difficulties, New Jersey Republicans have yet to recruit a high-profile candidate to run against him in the senatorial race this year.

New Jersey State Assemblyman Guy Gregg is expected to announce next month that he will seek the Republican nomination for the Senate seat.

The only other Republican candidate is conservative Essex County Executive James Treffinger.

One of the biggest blows to the state’s Republicans was the decision by former Gov. Tom Kean not to run for the seat.

Some Republicans are hoping that former presidential candidate Steve Forbes will enter the Senate race.

Mr. Torricelli, 50, won in 1996 with 53 percent of the vote. He has since raised more than $3 million for his election bid this year.

Mr. Ashcroft announced in March he had decided to leave Mrs. White in place in New York as a Democratic holdover, saying at the time that her dedication to justice was “unquestionable” and that her term as U.S. attorney had been one of “steadfast commitment to law enforcement.”

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