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Torricelli apologizes for ethics 'lapses'

Torricelli apologizes Tuesday evening on the floor of the Senate.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Robert Torricelli apologized to his New Jersey constituents Tuesday after being "severely admonished" by the Senate Ethics Committee for breaking Senate rules and displaying "poor judgment" in accepting gifts from a campaign contributor.

"The day that I was elected to the United States Senate remains among the most cherished of my life," Torricelli said in a speech on the Senate floor shortly after learning of the committee's decision.

"During recent weeks, I have spent long nights tormented by the question of how I could have allowed such lapses of judgment to compromise all that I have fought to build.

"It might take a lifetime to answer that question to my own satisfaction," he said.

Torricelli, a Democrat facing a tough re-election race for a second term, has insisted for months that he did not break Senate rules. But he said Tuesday he was prepared to accept the committee's judgment.

"I agree with the committee's conclusions, fully accept their findings and take full personal responsibility," he said.

Torricelli's opponent, Republican Douglas Forrester, has made the senator's ethics problems a campaign issue.

Sen. Robert Torricelli apologized to his New Jersey constituents for ethics 'lapses' after being admonished for breaking U.S. Senate rules. CNN's Jonathan Karl reports (July 31)

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Senate Ethics Committee members
  • Harry Reid, D-Nevada (chairman)
  • Pat Roberts, R-Kansas (ranking member)
  • Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii
  • Blanche Lincoln, D-Arkansas
  • Craig Thomas, R-Wyoming
  • George Voinovich, R-Ohio
  • With Republicans and Democrats fighting for control of the narrowly divided Senate, the loss of Torricelli's seat in New Jersey, which leans Democratic, could be a blow to Democratic hopes of keeping control of the Senate.

    The committee's verdict was outlined in a three-page letter released Tuesday evening. It found that Torricelli improperly received a television, CD player and bronze statutes from David Chang, a former Torricelli ally convicted earlier this year of violating federal campaign laws.

    Chang sold the TV and CD player to Torricelli at cost, below market value; the bronze statutes were lent to the senator for display in his office.

    The six-member committee, composed of three Democrats and three Republicans, also held that Torricelli's sister, an employee and a friend received gifts of earrings from Chang in violation of Senate rules.

    The committee said Torricelli exhibited "poor judgment" by taking official actions to benefit Chang, including contacting government officials, writing letters to international governments and letting Chang and his representatives attend meetings between the senator and government officials from other countries.

    "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 to Mr. Chang," the committee wrote.

    Torricelli's actions "created at least the appearance of impropriety, and you are hereby severely admonished," the letter said.

    In addition, the committee ordered Torricelli to pay fair market value to Chang for the gifts, "with appropriate interest." The senator was also ordered to return the statutes, which he previously turned over to the Justice Department.

    In January, Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, closed an investigation into Torricelli's relationship with Chang without filing any criminal charges against the senator.

    She said at the time there was not a "reasonable possibility" that the government could convict Torricelli.

    White referred the results of her investigation to the Senate Ethics Committee for action. The committee indicated its decision to admonish Torricelli was largely based on the investigation, which it termed "sweeping in scope, exceedingly detailed and thorough."

    "The quality of this record renders unnecessary any attempt by the committee to duplicate the Department of Justice investigation," the committee wrote.




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