- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 1, 2002

From combined dispatches

DES MOINES, Iowa In their first debate, Sen. Tom Harkin and Republican challenger Greg Ganske sparred Sunday night over the Harkin campaign's role in secretly taping a Ganske strategy session.

Mr. Ganske repeatedly compared the taping to Watergate.

"You know what a string of lies is? It's a cover-up. What did Tom Harkin know and when did he know it?" Mr. Ganske asked.

"You can't sweep under the rug that there is a criminal investigation going on," said Mr. Ganske, who is a representative in the U.S. House. "This is a crime, and it is fortunate that they were caught."

Mr. Harkin said he has fired a low-level staffer who taped the meeting and that voters want to hear about more than "just petty politics, and that's all it is."

"I've taken responsibility and I've taken action and it's time to move on," said Mr. Harkin, who is seeking a fourth Senate term after serving 10 years in the House.

Late last week, the scandal over the tapes claimed a second person in the Harkin campaign, with the resignation of campaign manager Jeff Link.

Mr. Link "has taken responsibility for this lack of management and supervision, and he has suggested that he step aside and a new management team be brought in," Mr. Harkin said in a news conference last week. "I have accepted this suggestion."

The Harkin campaign last week acknowledged that a junior research staffer asked a former Harkin congressional aide to record the Sept. 3 Ganske meeting at the Hotel Savery in Des Moines. The aide then passed the tape and a transcript to a newspaper reporter.

While apologizing for the incident, Mr. Harkin downplayed its significance as "shenanigans" and the product of "youthful exuberance."

Republicans, meanwhile, said questions remain about whether the Harkin staffer was the sole campaign worker involved. Major discrepancies exist between versions of what happened according to his campaign and according to the man believed to have recorded the meeting, the Des Moines Register reported. Those differences have a bearing on whether a crime was committed.

Mr. Harkin said Friday that a 21-year-old campaign researcher asked a businessman who had worked for Mr. Harkin in the 1970s to tape the meeting. But the businessman, Brian Conley, 53, of Des Moines, claims to have taped the meeting on his own and turned the tape over to the Harkin campaign in disgust over remarks Mr. Ganske made in the meeting.

The Republican Party of Iowa and Mr. Ganske's campaign say Mr. Conley's recording of the meeting was illegal because he intended to use it to damage the four-term congressman challenging Mr. Harkin's bid for a fourth Senate term. Lawyers for Mr. Harkin and Mr. Conley say no laws were broken because the tape was made by an invited participant.

Most polls have shown Mr. Harkin with an edge, but none postdates news of the surreptitious taping.

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