- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Sen. Robert G. Torricelli was questioned yesterday by staff of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics about accusations that he accepted cash in exchange for official favors.
The committee proceedings are secret the committee isn't even supposed to confirm that a deposition is under way, though the event has been widely reported but Senate aides said the New Jersey Democrat testified under oath to committee staff members.
Federal prosecutors in New York investigated Mr. Torricelli, but ended their investigation early this year without charging him with any crimes. Still, they sent their findings the ethics committee.
But Mr. Torricelli, a first-term senator who is seeking re-election this year, has said he expects the Senate panel to exonerate him.
"I expect the ethics committee will reach the same conclusion as the Justice Department," Mr. Torricelli told the Associated Press last week. "These accusations were simply false. The evidence is overwhelming, and it will be brought to a conclusion."
Mr. Torricelli's chief accuser, David Chang, made $53,700 in illegal contributions to Mr. Torricelli's 1996 campaign for the Senate.
Chang, who is serving an 18-month sentence for the contributions and for tampering with a grand jury, told prosecutors the senator accepted cash and numerous expensive gifts from him, including a Rolex watch, suits and Tiffany cuff links, in exchange for helping Chang with business deals in North and South Korea. He said Mr. Torricelli urged him to lie about the gifts and contributions.
Senate ethics investigations are tightly controlled, so it is not clear how far the investigation into Mr. Torricelli has proceeded or what questions investigators asked him.
Gary Ruskin of the nonpartisan Congressional Accountability Project said one indication of the thoroughness of an investigation is how investigators proceed in interviewing those involved. The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported yesterday that investigators have not talked to Chang.
Still, it is rare for a senator to give a deposition to the ethics committee. Mr. Ruskin said he knows of only two other senators since 1990 Bob Packwood of Oregon and Alfonse D'Amato of New York, both Republicans who are no longer in the Senate who have been called to testify.
Another member of Congress, Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., Ohio Democrat, is facing a full House vote this week on whether he should be expelled from the House after three days of hearings last week, which were open to the public and even telecast on C-SPAN. Mr. Traficant was convicted in April of bribery, racketeering, tax evasion and taking kickbacks.
"It seems to me a definite contrast in the way the House handled the Traficant hearing ethics investigation, in front of live C-SPAN cameras," one Senate Republican aide said.
Mr. Torricelli, seeking a second term, faces Republican Douglas R. Forrester in the elections in November. Republicans hope that if the ethics investigation hangs over Mr. Torricelli it will help Mr. Forrester's bid. But if Mr. Torricelli can clear up the charges quickly, his incumbency and his $6 million campaign treasury should prove formidable.
But Mr. Traficant may have given Mr. Torricelli something else to worry about last week. Richard Detore, one of the maverick congressman's witnesses, said Mr. Torricelli accepted free flights on a company airplane and jewelry for his girlfriend in exchange for help in changing tax laws to benefit Cafaro Co.


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