Rep. William H. Gray III, the chairman of the House Democratic caucus and the highest ranking black member of Congress, said Tuesday that he was questioned here by FBI agents over the Memorial Day holiday but termed “an outrageous lie” a report that he is the subject of a criminal investigation.
CBS News quoted unidentified Justice Department sources as saying that the Pennsylvania Democrat had refused to cooperate when two FBI agents contacted him over the weekend.
Provided No Names
However, Gray told a news conference that the agents had told him only that “an employee or employees” of his office were suspected of wrongdoing but the agents refused to provide names or describe the allegations against them.
“I was told over and over again that I was not the target or the subject of the investigation,” Gray added.
The agents’ assurances, he said, were confirmed by a Tom Lee from the U.S. attorney’s office in Philadelphia.
In Washington, FBI spokesman Charles Steinmetz refused to comment, saying: “Our official position on this is that we are not confirming or denying the existence of any investigation.”
(Later Tuesday night, the Associated Press quoted anonymous government sources as confirming the CBS report that the FBI was conducting a preliminary inquiry into allegations regarding personnel and expenditures in the congressman’s office.
(One source told the wire service there were allegations that a no-show employee was being kept on Gray’s payroll. The source stressed, however, that the FBI’s inquiry was at this point preliminary and agents did not know whether it would lead to a full-scale criminal investigation.)
Gray, who is seeking to become the majority whip, the third-ranking House post, replacing retiring Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Merced), said that he was suspicious about the timing of the story during his candidacy.
He said that he would demand an immediate investigation by Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh of “inaccurate leaks” to CBS.
When asked if he is still a candidate for whip, Gray replied: “You bet I am!”
Then, reiterating his offer to cooperate with an inquiry and provide records or documents, he added:
“I have done nothing wrong. I have nothing to fear from an investigation . . . . I’m not aware of any improprieties and I don’t tolerate any improprieties.”
Gray questioned the timing of the investigators’ visit also. He said that the agents told him they had had the information for four or five months.
“Why wait four months to send them to my home on Memorial Day?” Gray asked.
“I find it interesting--I find it amazing--that no one can answer questions about this.
“You be the judge as to the Justice Department leaks,” he suggested to reporters. “It may sound amazing that this could happen in America.”