- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat, last night was "severely admonished" by the Senate Select Committee on Ethics for violating gift rules after more than a week of highly secretive meetings of the panel.
Mr. Torricelli was investigated by the Justice Department on charges of receiving gifts and cash from David Chang, a campaign supporter and former friend, now a convicted felon.
No criminal charges were filed against Mr. Torricelli by the federal government, but the three-year-old investigation was turned over to the Senate panel to determine whether Senate rules were violated.
The meetings were so secret that times and locations on Capitol Hill were kept closely under wraps.
"After evaluating the extensive body of evidence before it and your testimony, the committee is troubled by incongruities, inconsistencies, and conflicts, particularly concerning actions taken by you, which were or could have been potential benefit to Mr. Chang," the full committee wrote to Mr. Torricelli.
The committee expressed its "determination that your actions and failure to act led to violations of Senate rules (and related statutes) and created at least the appearance of impropriety, and you are hereby severely admonished," the committee said.
Admonishment amounts to a slap on the wrist and does not strip a senator of any privileges. However, the committee directed Mr. Torricelli to pay the full market value for the items he received in order to comply with Senate rules.
Less than an hour after the committee made its findings public, Mr. Torricelli apologized to his colleagues during a Senate floor speech and said he will pay for the gifts that he maintained were legal.
"It has always been my contention that I believe that at no time did I accept any gift or violate any Senate rules. The committee has concluded otherwise in several circumstances," Mr. Torricelli said.
"I want my colleagues in the Senate to know I agree with the committee's conclusions and fully accept their findings and take full personal responsibility," Mr. Torricelli said.
Chang was convicted in May of making illegal contributions during the 1996 Senate campaign in exchange for what he said was help on business deals and is serving an 18-month prison sentence.
Mr. Torricelli acknowledges receiving some gifts from Chang, including a big-screen television and CD player. Mr. Torricelli says he followed Senate rules and reimbursed the money.
However, the committee said he did not pay fair market retail value, which showed "poor judgment, displayed a lack of due regard for Senate rules and resulted in the violation of the Senate gift rules."
Senators are prohibited from accepting gifts worth more than $50. Exceptions to the rule include "anything for which the member pays the market value, or does not use and promptly returns to the donor."
Bradley Simon, Chang's lawyer, maintains that the money and gifts were never reimbursed by the senator.
The acceptance of bronze statues for his office violated rules, the panel said, as did Mr. Torricelli's acceptance of earrings for his sister, friend and employee.
"Continuation of a personal and official relationship with Mr. Chang under circumstances where you knew that he was attempting to ingratiate himself, in part through a pattern of attempts to provide you and those around you with gifts over a period of several years when you and your Senate office were taking official actions of benefit to Mr. Chang (contacting U.S. government officials, writing letters to foreign government officials, and involving Mr. Chang or his representatives in situations where you were meeting with officials of foreign governments) evidenced poor judgment," the committee said.
On Monday, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat and committee chairman, said that if the committee did not reach a decision quickly, he would suspend the investigation until after the fall elections. Mr. Torricelli is seeking a second six-year term in November.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, questioned whether the delay would be fair to New Jersey voters or to Mr. Torricelli.
"Obviously, it would be better if this could be resolved one way or the other, both for the institution, but also, quite frankly, for Sen. Torricelli," Mr. Lott said.


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