- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002


A Senate ethics committee investigating Sen. Robert G. Torricelli is facing dramatically conflicting accounts of the lawmaker's friendship with a campaign contributor as it nears a conclusion to its work.

The contributor, David Chang, insists he gave Mr. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat, cash and gifts in exchange for the senator's help in business dealings overseas.

Mr. Torricelli, who spent about seven hours being questioned by the ethics committee and its staff this week, says he took no gifts and did nothing out of the ordinary for Chang. He and his attorneys have painted Chang as a pathological liar.

The six senators weighing the matter spent nearly three hours in private with Mr. Torricelli and his attorney Thursday.

Chang's attorney, Bradley Simon, has urged the committee to meet in person with his client as well. But the chairman of the ethics committee, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat, said the panel does not plan to call any other witnesses.

Mr. Inouye said a conclusion to the case could come next week, before the Senate breaks for its August recess.

The ethics committee can dismiss a case or, in cases of inadvertent or technical violations, issue a public or private letter of admonition. In more severe cases, it can recommend that the full Senate expel or censure a member.

Chang is serving an 18-month prison sentence for making illegal donations to Mr. Torricelli in 1996. He cooperated with federal prosecutors in a criminal investigation that ended in January with no charges made against Mr. Torricelli.

The prosecutor in that case, Mary Jo White, sent material to the ethics committee for a review.

The most detailed account of Chang's accusations came in a pre-sentencing memo Mr. Simon filed in May.

It said that, at the senator's request, Chang made about 14 deliveries of cash to Mr. Torricelli's home between 1996 and 1998, each $8,000 to $9,000.

Chang also told investigators that "Torricelli repeatedly sought expensive gifts," including diamond earrings for a girlfriend and cufflinks for himself, the memo said.

It said Chang bought Mr. Torricelli about 12 Italian suits, a cashmere coat, a 42-inch television set, a stereo system, camera equipment, a $9,200 Rolex watch and a Persian rug.

It said Chang also gave the senator $4,000 to buy a grandfather clock at an antique store in Lambertville, N.J., and spent more than $5,000 on other antiques that Mr. Torricelli picked out at a store in Manhattan.

Mr. Simon wrote, "When the government began to investigate Mr. Chang, Mr. Torricelli advised him that he had had the serial number on the television altered so that the purchase could not be traced back to Mr. Chang."

Senate rules generally restrict all gifts worth more than $50. They do allow some gifts from long-standing friends, and Mr. Torricelli has said he once considered Chang a friend.

But the rules require that all gifts exceeding $260 be listed on annual financial-disclosure forms, and Mr. Torricelli never reported any gifts from Chang.

Leaving the ethics committee office Thursday night, Mr. Torricelli said he never accepted "inappropriate gifts."

Asked about that phrase, he said, "'No inappropriate gifts,' 'no gifts,' 'no illegal gifts' are distinctions without a difference. There simply were no gifts, and I believe the evidence contradicts overwhelmingly the allegations."

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