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Cranston Assails Helms for Ethics Report Release

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) cried foul Monday over the release of a confidential ethics report that accuses him of “reprehensible” conduct for his actions on behalf of savings and loan magnate Charles H. Keating Jr.

Cranston charged through his spokesman that Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who released the report, is “an extreme right-winger” who had acted for highly partisan motives. Helms is one of six members of the Senate Ethics Committee, which is evaluating the case against Cranston.

The report was prepared months ago by Robert S. Bennett, special counsel to the committee. It calls for censure of Cranston by his Senate colleagues and uses stronger language than the committee itself adopted in criticizing Cranston last February.

Cranston is one of the “Keating Five” senators who were accused of intervening with federal regulators on behalf of Lincoln Savings & Loan of Irvine, Calif., while accepting contributions from Keating, its owner.

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Lincoln eventually was seized by the government, and its collapse is expected to cost taxpayers as much as $2 billion.

The Ethics Committee said in February that the other four senators had engaged in questionable activity but had broken no ethics rules. It said that the case against Cranston appeared to be more serious and would be referred to the full Senate after he was given another chance to respond. The panel has not yet released its final report.

Helms, one of three Republicans on the six-member committee, said that he had grown frustrated with the slow pace of the committee’s deliberations and released Bennett’s findings in an effort to force the panel to resolve the matter.

Helms released the report under his own name. He said it contained some minor modifications but would not elaborate. One committee source who requested anonymity said that the document appeared to be nearly identical to Bennett’s report.

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Helms said that Cranston has been lobbying members of the panel in recent months either to delay or water down any action against him, and, last Friday, Congress began a five-week summer recess during which no determination can be made.

One committee member, Sen. David Pryor (D-Ark.), suffered a heart attack last spring and withdrew from consideration of the case. His replacement on the committee, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), recused himself from the matter last month because his wife’s law firm was owed legal fees by several Cranston aides who appeared as witnesses before the committee.

The release of Bennett’s report by Helms resulted in an unusual bipartisan rebuke from the committee’s leadership. Chairman Terry Sanford (D-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) said it is “regrettable” that Helms had made an unauthorized release of confidential committee material that had been rejected in part by the panel.

Sanford and Rudman called the Bennett report “a draft working document.” They said that it would differ from the “final and authentic report” that ultimately will be released by the committee.

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“The committee has always attempted to be fair and judicious, and we are disappointed that these established practices have been violated,” the two senators said. “We have asked the committee staff to investigate the fact and the implications of this release of committee information.”

One source said that a committee rule prohibits release of “any classified or committee-sensitive information, document or material received or generated” by the panel. It was not clear what action the committee might take if Helms is found to have violated it.

Murray S. Flander, Cranston’s press secretary, said in a statement that Helms “obviously is trying to pressure his fellow senators on the committee in hopes of achieving by intimidation what he cannot achieve by logic and fair play.”

After noting that the special counsel’s report has not been adopted or issued by the panel, Flander said that “it is now up to the committee to deal with this immoral, unethical and blatantly political leak by Sen. Helms in violation of the American concept of fair play.”

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Helms is “acting like a political enemy, not a fair-minded juror,” Flander said. He called Helms “an extreme right-winger” who is “extremely prejudiced and is unfit to sit in judgment on ethical issues.”

In the harshest criticism of Cranston to date, the Bennett report released by Helms said that he “acted in a manner that implicated the very dangers to our democratic process that the conflict-of-interest statute was designed to prevent.”

It said that he “solicited and received contributions from Mr. Keating when he knew or should have known that Mr. Keating was attempting to procure his services in a particular matter before the bank board. Moreover, he repeatedly contacted the bank board about Lincoln in circumstances that reasonably call into question whether he was acting in Mr. Keating’s narrow interests rather than the public good.”

Tacitly acknowledging that his action was unusual, Helms said that, after 18 months of investigation and 26 days of public hearings earlier this year, “the committee owes it to our fellow senators and to the public to issue a comprehensive report on the facts of this case and to state clearly the standards we believe should govern this body.”

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He said that the committee “has inordinately delayed issuing a report,” adding: “I cannot be a party to further delay until September--or later.”

In its February report, the Ethics Committee concluded that Cranston was the only member of the “Keating Five” who had broken Senate rules. The panel cited “an impermissible pattern of conduct” in which Cranston intervened with regulators while soliciting a total of $994,000 in contributions to his campaign committees or to voter registration drives he supported.

Although the Bennett report employs stronger language, it contains no fresh factual information beyond the evidence established in the committee’s public hearings last winter.

Cranston, 76, who underwent treatment for prostate cancer in recent months, has announced plans to retire at the conclusion of his fourth six-year term in 1992. He has protested that he has been “unfairly singled out” from the other senators.

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The other “Keating Five” senators are Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), Donald W. Riegle Jr. (D-Mich.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and John Glenn (D-Ohio). The ethics panel said that they had exercised poor judgment but had broken no rules.

NEXT STEP

The Senate Ethics Committee will continue its investigation of Sen. Alan Cranston’s dealings with former thrift owner Charles H. Keating Jr. after Congress returns from its summer recess in September. Ultimately, the panel will report its findings to the full Senate, along with recommendations on possible sanctions against Cranston. The options range from a finding of no wrongdoing to a simple reprimand or formal censure.


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