- The Washington Times - Monday, July 29, 2002

Some aspects of serving in the Senate aren't so much fun anymore for Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, the acting chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee. "I don't want to be on this committee any longer," says Mr. Inouye, who assumed the chairmanship after Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid recused himself from the most pressing matter currently before the panel: what to do about allegations that a fellow Democrat, Sen. Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, improperly accepted cash and gifts from a political contributor.
Mr. Inouye wants to conclude the Torricelli case after testimony from one witness Mr. Torricelli, who testified behind closed doors for nearly three hours last Thursday. The Hawaii Democrat apparently does not want to take testimony from Mr. Torricelli's main accuser: David Chang, who is currently serving an 18-month federal prison sentence for obstruction of justice and making $53,700 in illegal contributions to Mr. Torricelli's 1996 campaign.
Mr. Reid, who donated money to Mr. Torricelli's legal defense fund last year, made the right decision. He understood all too well that it would have made a mockery of the ethics process to have so partisan a Torricelli supporter rendering an "objective" decision as to whether he broke the law or violated Senate ethics rules. But is Mr. Inouye even if he hasn't contributed to Mr. Torricelli's defense fund really any more capable of deciding the case in an unbiased way? After all, Mr. Inouye is certainly mindful of the fact that Mr. Torricelli is up for re-election this year, and that his defeat could cost the Democrats control of the Senate.
The facts of the case are this: Mr. Torricelli has been dogged by serious allegations of misconduct ever since his 1996 Senate campaign. The latest problem for the New Jersey Democrat is a front-page report in Friday's New York Times that Mr. Inouye's Ethics Committee "had received sales receipts, witness testimony and other corroboration" of two improper gifts from Chang. Senate rules generally bar senators from accepting gifts worth more than $50, and require that all gifts be reported on disclosure forms. But according to the Times, Mr. Torricelli "has never reported any gifts from Mr. Chang."
At his sentencing hearing, Chang "described a long and close relationship with Mr. Torricelli and asserted that he lavished the senator with gifts and tens of thousands of dollars in cash in exchange for help with his various business deals," the Times added. The Ethics Committee is aware of sales receipts for gifts allegedly given by Chang to Mr. Torricelli and the senator's ex-wife, Susan Holloway Torricelli, a Democratic fund-raiser "who remains one of his closest confidants," according to the Times.
Mr. Torricelli denies having provided any special help to Chang. But in 1999, he apparently brought him to a meeting with the South Korean finance minister. Although Mr. Torricelli has said he had no role in getting Chang into the meeting, both the finance minister and the U.S. ambassador have sharply disputed the senator's assertion.
Many of Mr. Torricelli's Democratic Party colleagues have rallied to his defense with public statements of support and contributions to his defense fund. Roll Call reported in January that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle "orchestrated an outpouring of public support for Torricelli, an effort that included numerous Senators such as Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and former Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Biden publicly questioning the motives of the GOP-led Justice Department." Mr. Torricelli's defense fund also received the maximum possible contribution of $10,000 each from the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt. The fund also received $10,000 from New Jersey Sen. Jon Corzine.
Both Mr. Corzine, whose own financial practices as head of Goldman Sachs in the go-go '90s have come under growing scrutiny, and that noted ethicist, former President Clinton, appeared at a May 31 fundraiser where they sang Mr. Torricelli's praises. Nonetheless, despite representing a state that hasn't elected a Republican senator in 30 years, Mr. Torricelli is in a fight for his political life; a just-released poll shows him in a dead heat with his Republican opponent, businessman Doug Forrester. "The Torch" is clearly hoping that Mr. Inouye will do a whitewash job this week and end the Torricelli "probe" without calling any new witnesses.

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