Symington Calls RTC Suit a Vendetta

From Associated Press

Arizona Gov. J. Fife Symington III asked Congress on Thursday to rein in savings and loan regulators he said are out to ruin his reputation and career.

Symington, a Republican who was a real estate developer before his election a year ago, is among the subjects of a $140-million lawsuit filed in December by the Resolution Trust Corp.

The agency maintains that Symington breached his duty while a director of Southwest Savings & Loan Assn., which failed three years ago at an estimated cost to taxpayers of $941 million.

It said the thrift lost $40 million by investing in Camelback Esplanade, a 19-acre, hotel-office-retail project in Phoenix, which Symington developed.

However, Symington said the RTC is wrong about every accusation. He accused it, as an agency beholden to a Democratic-controlled Congress, of a political vendetta.

"Every act against me by my government has been designed to . . . humiliate and embarrass," he told a House panel. "I have been treated to a public hanging without the facts, without a hearing, without regard for the principles of fair play."

After a nearly three-hour appearance, Symington won cautious sympathy from Republicans on the House Banking investigations subcommittee. But the chairman, Rep. Carroll Hubbard (D-Ky.), remained unconvinced.

"Mr. Chairman, I respectfully request that this committee call those responsible to account for trying to ruin me, and see to it that justice is finally done," Symington said.

"Perhaps you didn't break any laws," Hubbard told him. "But at the very least there is a perception your special relationship with Southwest gave you privileged access to funds--taxpayer-backed funds--that an ordinary citizen would not have had access to."

Afterward, at a news conference, Symington said his testimony marked "a great day."

"I think I shot a lot of holes in the RTC's case. I refuted every one of their allegations with fact, and they didn't have a lot to say in return."

Symington maintains that Camelback Esplanade, although never finished, may show a profit when the Arizona real estate market recovers.

Regulators, including RTC Associate General Counsel Richard T. Aboussie, defended the suit. But they condemned the leaking to a reporter of an internal RTC memo criticizing Symington.

"I don't feel the evidence is flimsy at all, and I very much concur . . . this suit should have been filed," Aboussie said. He said the agency is investigating the leak of the memo.

Symington, with his attorney at his side, was sworn in before a phalanx of television and still cameras. Four of the five Arizona Republicans serving in Congress accompanied him: Sen. John McCain and Reps. Bob Stump, Jim Kolbe and Jon L. Kyl.

Symington's wife, Anne, his father, J. Fife Symington II, and his son, J. Fife Symington IV, sat behind him as he testified.

Thursday was Symington's second appearance before Congress on the matter.

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