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Torricelli sees vindication in ethics case

'There were no gifts,' says senator

Sen. Robert Torricelli says he never accepted any illegal gifts from a former supporter.
Sen. Robert Torricelli says he never accepted any illegal gifts from a former supporter.  

From Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Robert Torricelli said Friday he told the Senate Ethics Committee he did not accept any gifts from a supporter and said he's confident the committee won't take action against him.

But a lawyer for that onetime supporter, David Chang, said the committee wasn't being thorough and criticized it for not interviewing his client.

Torricelli, D-New Jersey, testified in closed session before the committee Thursday evening about allegations that he improperly accepted gifts and cash from Chang. Senate rules ban gifts to senators worth more than $50.

Torricelli told CNN he was not concerned about a report in The New York Times on Friday that the committee had receipts for a television and a grandfather clock that Chang reportedly bought for him. He called the allegations of wrongdoing "false."

"There were no gifts. Everything is properly accounted for. I provided testimony and evidence to the committee," Torricelli said. "This was all stuff that was previously known."

The Senate Ethics committee is likely to decide early next week whether to punish Torricelli or close the case.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, has been leading the inquiry. The committee's chairman, Nevada Democrat Harry Reid, recused himself because of his friendship with Torricelli.

Inouye told reporters Thursday night the committee does not intend to call other witnesses, despite the fact that Chang's lawyer, Bradley Simon, wrote the committee asking that it interview his client. Simon said the committee never responded to his letter and suggested it was engaging in a whitewash.

"It appears, sadly, as if they are trying to sweep this whole matter under the rug," said Simon.

"It doesn't give me a lot of comfort that the Senate Ethics Committee, given the responsibility entrusted to them, are not even hearing from the critical witness," he said.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi., said he respects the work and tradition of the committee, but said its decision not to interview other witnesses or hold a public hearing "doesn't look good."

Justice Department investigators spent years looking into Torricelli's relationship with Chang and decided in January not to press charges, but they forwarded material to the Ethics Committee.

Chang is currently in prison for making illegal campaign donations to Torricelli in 1996. Torricelli said Friday he now regrets any involvement with Chang.

"The committee now has both the testimony and there is sufficient evidence to feel comfortable about the relationship," Torricelli said. "I've expressed regret, that Mr. Chang clearly was a person that I never should have known."




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