Legislators Investigated by FBI Given ‘Benefit of Doubt’ by Deukmejian

Times Sacramento Bureau Chief

Gov. George Deukmejian on Wednesday went to the defense of legislators being investigated by the FBI, declaring that they deserve “the benefit of doubt” unless proven guilty.

Striking an understanding, sympathetic tone toward his state Capitol colleagues, Deukmejian pointed out that no charges have been filed in the investigation. But all the continuing speculation about possible political corruption “can be very damaging” to the targeted elected officials, the governor told a Los Angeles press conference.

Deukmejian, a legislator for 16 years before becoming state attorney general and then governor, said federal authorities should proceed toward any possible indictments “in a professional way” without regard to the November election.

But he emphasized, “I don’t want to see anybody indicted. I mean, I hope that there has not been any wrongdoing.”


There have been strong hints from federal authorities that any indictments likely will come after the Nov. 8 election for two reasons: The investigation probably will not be completed until late this month, at the earliest; and federal prosecutors are reluctant to charge politicians with crimes just before an election.

U.S. Atty. David F. Levi, who is spearheading the investigation and would lead any prosecution, acknowledged in a Sacramento interview Wednesday that election-time indictments pose a dilemma. On the one hand, he noted, such indictments would provide voters with information “they should have” before casting ballots. On the other hand, he continued, a politician’s reputation would be “sullied” without providing enough time “for vindication.”

Deukmejian’s comments, in response to reporters’ questions, were his most extensive about the federal investigation since it came to public light following the FBI’S nighttime raid of Capitol offices Aug. 24.

But although the governor expressed his general attitude and concerns about the probe, he refused to be drawn into a discussion of specifics.


Deukmejian again refused to confirm a weeks-old Times report, derived from sources familiar with the investigation, that he twice was tipped off to the FBI’s three-year Capitol sting operation--at least to the extent of being cautioned against signing two bills that undercover agents, posing as businessmen, had steered through the Legislature while paying out campaign contributions and honorariums.

“I’m not going to comment on this investigation at this time. . . . It wouldn’t be appropriate,” he said.

Deukmejian was asked about another Times report published Wednesday that Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale and a top lieutenant, Assemblyman Frank Hill (R-Whittier)--two targets of the FBI probe--regularly solicited campaign contributions by boasting to lobbyists of their special influence with the GOP governor.

‘Lot of People Use You’

“One thing you find in public life--and I’m not in any way saying they (Nolan and Hill) have done this, I want to underscore that--but in public life, and especially in the governor, you find that a lot of people use you,” Deukmejian said.

As for the Republican leaders’ influence on him, the governor responded: “I hope that I have a lot of influence with them at times. And, by the same token, I receive their input as I’m making decisions. Their input is significant. (But) it’s the same thing with a lot of other people. . . . We get information from our (government) departments, from different interest groups, from the mail. . . . “

Deukmejian would not say whether he agrees with Nolan’s GOP critics that the Assembly Republican leader has become a political liability to the party’s legislative candidates and should step down from the post. That is up to Assembly Republicans to decide, the governor said.

But he emphasized, “Nobody whose name has been raised in connection with that investigation has been charged with anything. And I think that every single person--whether they’re Republican or Democrat--should be given the benefit of the doubt. . . . The general public should be fair and not arrive at any conclusions or judgments unless and until there is, in fact, an indictment or prosecution and a conviction.”


The governor seemed willing to give Nolan the benefit of the doubt in an investigative matter unrelated to the FBI sting--a probe into the forging by Nolan operatives of President Reagan’s signature on 1986 campaign literature. The Sacramento district attorney recently announced he will not prosecute but said he found evidence that Nolan had asked his staff to lie to the White House about the phony presidential endorsements.

‘Would Be Disturbing’

“If it, in fact, is true, it would be disturbing,” Deukmejian said of the forgeries and lying. “But, again, apparently in the eyes of that district attorney, he did not feel there had been any laws violated.”

Deukmejian was asked why it is that only the FBI seems to investigate Capitol political corruption--not the state attorney general, local districts attorney or the Legislature itself. The governor gave an indirect answer.

“I’ll put it this way,” he said. “In the political arena, you always hear a lot of rumors. And then when you try to specifically pin down whether or not certain incidents occurred, the people who may have started the rumors are always reluctant and don’t wish to come forward. And they don’t wish to testify. . . . I don’t know, but I assume that’s probably the reason why they (federal agents) initiated it (the sting).”

On an entirely separate issue, Deukmejian accused supporters of Proposition 97, which would restore the Cal/OSHA worker safety program that he abolished, of a “misleading” campaign. Since he turned the worker safety program over to the federal government in order “to eliminate a duplicative program,” the governor said, “there has not been a reduction in the amount of protection for California workers.”