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Public Hearings Set on Durenberger’s Finances : Ethics: The unusual trial-like atmosphere will focus on his book deal. A Senate panel has found ‘credible evidence’ that he may have broken the law.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Senate Ethics Committee said Thursday that it plans rare public hearings in its investigation of Sen. Dave Durenberger’s personal finances.

The move follows a Feb. 22 finding by the committee of “substantial credible evidence” that the Minnesota Republican may have broken federal law and Senate rules in connection with a book-publishing deal and acceptance of limousine service from businesses and lobbyists.

The hearings will take place in a trial-like atmosphere. In the past, there have been three such events, and each led to severe disciplinary action against the senators involved.

In a terse statement, the committee, which has been investigating Durenberger for more than a year, said that it had voted to begin two weeks of hearings on June 12.

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The panel also said that it is continuing a preliminary inquiry into whether Durenberger improperly billed the Senate for rent he paid on a Minneapolis condominium that he partly owned.

The only other public hearings in the 26-year history of the Ethics Committee resulted in the censure of Thomas J. Dodd (D-Conn.) in 1967, the denunciation of Herman E. Talmadge (D-Ga.) in 1979 and the resignation under threat of expulsion of Harrison A. Williams Jr. (D-N.J.) in 1982. Dodd and Talmadge later were defeated for reelection.

Durenberger, a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a prominent voice on health issues, said through his administrative assistant, Bert McKasy, that “we share with the committee an interest in getting these matters resolved in a timely fashion.”

In February, the senator acknowledged that he had “made mistakes and had lapses in judgment.” He added, however, that “it was never my intent to circumvent Senate rules for my own benefit.”

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Durenberger is one of seven senators under investigation by the bipartisan ethics panel for possible rules violations. His case is the first to reach the final stage before disciplinary action can be considered. If violations are found, the committee can recommend sanctions ranging from a reprimand to expulsion.

At its hearings, the committee will seek to determine:

--Whether an arrangement between Durenberger and Piranha Press, publisher of two books he wrote, improperly circumvented limits on a senator’s income from honorariums. Interest groups that invited Durenberger to speak were asked to write checks to the book company rather than pay him an honorarium. Durenberger, who said that he was promoting books, netted about $100,000 on the deal. Senate rules capped honorariums at $52,500 during the 1985-86 period.

--Whether Durenberger’s failure to report travel expenses paid by Piranha on his yearly financial statements violated disclosure rules.

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--Whether he turned campaign money to personal use in violation of federal law when he transferred to Piranha a $5,000 check written to his Senate campaign committee.

--Whether his use of Senate office space for six promotional appearances violated rules barring commercial use of such space.

--Whether limousine service provided by private interests during marriage-counseling trips to Boston violated conflict-of-interest regulations on gifts.

Durenberger, 55, is up for reelection in 1994. He won in 1988 with 56% of the vote even though his Democratic opponent, Hubert H. Humphrey III, attacked the book promotion deal.

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