Torricelli's Ethics in Question

One day after Ohio Rep. James Traficant was expelled from the House for ethics violations, similar trouble possibly awaits Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J.

Torricelli spent several hours Thursday behind closed doors with the ethics committee, apparently to discuss allegations that the senator accepted expensive gifts from a New Jersey fund-raiser.

The ethics committee —  three Republican and three Democratic senators —  met with Torricelli and his lawyer for nearly three hours.

"We're too tired — I'll be honest with you  to make any decisions tonight," the committee chairman, Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, said as the meeting broke up.

Sources say that documents from a New Jersey retailer are in the hands of the ethics committee and the Justice Department, indicating that a fund-raiser by the name of David Chang purchased a $1,600 television and had it delivered to the senator's home.

Chang is currently serving 18 months in a federal prison after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice, as well as making more than $50,000 in illegal contributions to Torricelli's 1996 campaign.

The fund-raiser says that he gave Torricelli thousands of dollars in cash and gifts in exchange for favors.

Chang's lawyer, Bradley Simon, wrote Inouye this week to urge that the committee seek his client's testimony. 

"It is impossible to conduct a thorough probe of this matter without hearing from David Chang, who is the one witness with firsthand knowledge of these matters," Simon said Thursday night. "Sadly, it appears the ethics committee is determined to sweep the matter under the rug." 

Inouye said before Thursday's hearing that he was unaware of Chang's written request to testify. "If there's an official letter, we'll act upon it," Inouye said. 

After the hearing, Torricelli said he remains confident the case will end in his favor.

Sources say that the senator was questioned Thursday regarding the sale receipts, and whether or not he did allegedly receive the television from Chang.

"I want this process to end with a complete understanding that Mr. Chang's allegations are false," he said.

The case has become an issue in Torricelli's effort to win a second term. The campaign manager of his Republican opponent, businessman Douglas Forrester, renewed his call Thursday for Torricelli to release the transcript of his testimony to the committee. Torricelli has said that is a decision for the committee.

With this investigation under way, Torricelli became only the third senator in a decade to be questioned under oath by his colleagues in an ethics probe.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.