Wednesday, October 8, 2003

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Federal law enforcement officials yesterday confirmed that listening devices found in the offices of Mayor John F. Street were planted by the FBI — a discovery that touched off a political furor just weeks before Election Day.

Three federal law-enforcement officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, acknowledged that the FBI was responsible for the bugs, but refused to comment on whether the Democratic mayor is the target of an investigation or to provide any details about the nature of the probe.

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat, and Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican, were among several politicians who called on the FBI yesterday to tell the public what it knows about the eavesdropping equipment, found Tuesday.

“I think given this extraordinary situation with four weeks to go in the campaign, it is incumbent upon the FBI to say why they planted the device,” Mr. Rendell said.

The bug was found during a routine sweep of Mr. Street’s office by police. Mr. Street is locked in a bitter rematch against Republican businessman Sam Katz, and the campaign has been marked by charges of threats and race-baiting. Election Day is Nov. 4.

At a meeting with reporters yesterday, Mr. Street said for the second day that he didn’t know why his office was bugged.

“I haven’t done anything wrong, and I don’t know that anybody in my Cabinet or in my staff around me has done anything wrong,” Mr. Street said.

Mr. Street’s campaign suggested the bugging was instigated by the Justice Department for political reasons.

“The timing of the discovery of these listening devices seems incredibly strange, seeing that we are four weeks out of the election, and we have a Democratic mayor ahead in the polls, and we are on the eve of the first mayoral debate,” Street campaign spokesman Frank Keel said.

“Do we believe that the Republican Party, both at the federal level and state level, is pulling out every stop to get Pennsylvania in 2004? Absolutely,” Mr. Keel said. “Is the Republican Party capable of dirty tricks? I think that is well-documented.”

U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan, the top federal prosecutor in Philadelphia, declined to say what federal agents might know about the bug, but said politics play no role in his office’s decisions.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has a long and proud history of doing its work without regard to partisan politics. That was the practice of my predecessors, and it is my practice as well,” Mr. Meehan said in a statement.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson said he turned the matter over to the FBI. He said the security sweeps of the mayor’s office have been going on for decades.

An aide to Mr. Street who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that more than one microphone was found and that all were within the mayor’s office suite. Officials would not say how long the equipment might have been in place, but police said a sweep done in June found nothing suspicious.

Mr. Katz called the discovery “breathtakingly shocking.” His campaign said it had nothing to do with the bugging.

Mr. Street beat Mr. Katz four years ago by fewer than 10,000 votes in this city of 1.5 million. Polls also show a neck-and-neck race in this year’s campaign.

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