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Torricelli `Severely Admonished' by Senate Ethics Committee

Aired July 30, 2002 - 19:18   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
TUCKER CARLSON, "CROSSFIRE" CO-HOST: We promised you news updates on Senator Robert Torricelli as events warrant. Lo and behold, events warrant. There just has been one.

CNN congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl joins us now from Capitol Hill with the details.

Jon, what has happened?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Tucker, the headline here is the Senate Ethics Committee has severely admonished Bob Torricelli for his relationship and the gifts he received from David Chang.

Now, we know that Senator Torricelli will be on the Senate floor at 7:50 Eastern time to respond to these charges.

But first to the charges. A three-page letter, very toughly worded letter from the Senate Ethics Committee. I'll skip right to the end, where they use the phrase "severely admonished." It says that he at least, quote, "created at least the appearance of impropriety, and you are hereby severely admonished."

The letter goes on to talk about a series of gifts that Torricelli received from Chang. These gifts included a television and a stereo CD player. They say that Torricelli reimbursed Chang for this, but not at fair market value. And that was, in this letter's words, "a display of a lack of due regard for Senate rules, and resulted in a violation of the Senate gifts rule."

It also talked about bronze statues that Torricelli received from Chang. Torricelli had tried to explain to the committee that those were simply part of a program where the senator displayed artwork from his home state. The Senate Ethics committee did not accept that explanation.

They also talked about earrings that Mr. Chang gave Torricelli's sister, an employee and also a friend. Torricelli told the committee, this letter says, that those gifts, he thought, were of not sufficient value to worry about. This letter says that that was not true, that that explanation evidenced poor judgment and displayed a lack of due regard for Senate rules.

Also, one more thing, Tucker, they talked a little bit about the relationship with David Chang and about what Torricelli did for David Chang, some people would say, in return for these gifts. This letter does not say whether or not there was a quid pro quo; but it says, quote: "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, of potential benefit for Mr. Chang."

So a very toughly worded letter.

One last thing, Tucker, they want Torricelli to pay Mr. Chang back for that CD player and for the television set.

CARLSON: Other than that, Jonathan, are there -- I mean, what are the effects of severe admonishment? Does he have to wear a funny hat? Is there a practical punishment apart from repaying for the CD player?

KARL: I would imagine that we can expect very soon a television ad in the state of New Jersey from his Republican opponent.

But in terms of the Senate rules, this ends the case. He has been admonished. He's not going to be punished. He doesn't have to sit on the corner of the Senate floor.

But clearly, four months out from an election, this is something that will give lots of ammunition to his political opponents.

Jonathan Karl, a shocking story, thanks for bringing it to us from Capitol Hill.

JAMES CARVILLE, "CROSSFIRE" CO-HOST: We have, actually, a real, live United States senator here, Senator George Allen, Republican of Virginia talking to us on stage.

Do you have a reaction to what we just heard about the Senate Ethics Committee actions relative to Senator Torricelli of New Jersey?

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA: I want to look at it closely.

But listening to Jonathan Karl's response, or portrayal of it, it reminds me of a story here in southwest Virginia about a horse thief. And the jury goes through the whole case and they say not guilty, but you have to return the horse.

And he's not guilty, but you have to pay for those gifts.

I think that the main thing that we'll want to look at is not so much the gifts being reported or not, is the connection of the gifts to action taken for Mr. Chang. But it seems like probably there will be no action by the Senate, but the people of New Jersey do have an option, they do have an election this year. And Mr. Forrester is running.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: ... a great corporate suck-up than Senator Torricelli...

(CROSSTALK)

ALLEN: Well, fine, but I think the people of New Jersey will make that decision. And I think the people of New Jersey would like to have a senator of whom they can be proud. And Mr. Forrester, I think, will meet that criteria.

CARVILLE: I think Senator Torricelli is a man who made a mistake, but is an outstanding United States...

CARLSON: Well, let me get a response from Mr. Reich, who's sitting there in Boston.

I mean doesn't -- Mr. Reich, doesn't it seem odd to you that the chief accuser, the chief witness in this investigation was never called before the Senate. And at a time when we're upset about corporate misdeeds and the subsequent cover-ups, we ought to be wondering: Why was the chief accuser never brought before the Senate?

REICH: Yes Tucker, I think, actually, that there is a tremendous sensitivity in the public right now. And it's not only in terms of corporate misuse of authority and conflicts of interest, it's also in government.

And yes, I think there's a legitimate question about the process here. The public is going to look at this very carefully, obviously going to express their opinion in the upcoming election.

But mark my words, I think we are at the edge of an era where the public is just fed up with business and politics as usual, in corporate suites or political back rooms. It's going to be -- the public is demanding reform, demanding ethics.

CARLSON: Do you think the reforms should include replacing Senator Torricelli? What do you think about the fact that he received a television and earrings and a CD player and a grandfather clock? I mean, can a person like that remain a U.S. senator?

REICH: I think the people of New Jersey are going to make a decision about that, and I'm not going to second-guess them.

But I'll tell you something, I think it's -- obviously these are serious allegations, and we're not seeing the end of them. I think that this era is an era in which conflict of interest is going to be rooted out.

CARVILLE: I think the people of New Jersey will make the decision, I think they'll return (ph).

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