WASHINGTON – The Republican hoping to unseat Sen. Robert Torricelli in November's election praised the Senate ethics committee's severe admonishment of the New Jersey Democrat for illegally receiving gifts from a former campaign contributor.
"I believe [the committee] did go far enough in the actions it recommended, although it was extraordinary," Doug Forrester said to Fox News Tuesday night. "Very, very few senators have ever been rebuked more sharply than Bob Torricelli."
"Your actions and failure to act led to violations of Senate rules (and related statutes)," the committee officially told Torricelli Tuesday, "and created at least the appearance of impropriety, and you are hereby severely admonished."
The "related statutes" reference indicates that the panel thinks the first-term Senator may have broken federal campaign laws.
Earlier this year, Justice Department prosecutor Mary Jo White folded a year-long investigation of Torricelli without filing charges. White turned over materials from the probe to the Senate ethics committee.
For his part, Torricelli on Tuesday night acknowledged for the first time that he violated Senate rules, while still maintaining his position that he never knowingly accepted an illegal gift.
"I want my colleagues in the Senate to know that I agree with the committee's conclusions, fully accept their findings and take full personal responsibility," he said in a statement delivered on the Senate floor.
Torricelli's chief accuser, a South Korean-born businessman David Chang, is serving 18 months in prison for making illegal donations to Torricelli's campaign.
Ethics panel documents show that Torricelli did not promptly or fully reimburse Chang for gifts including a television, CD stereo system, and grandfather clock.
"They made a specific point of saying that they are deeply disturbed at the incongruities in Mr. Torricelli's testimony, in the inconsistencies, the lack of forthrightness, the lack of clarity," said Forrester, 48, a businessman from Mercer County, N.J.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the ethics panel, said the admonition letter was approved unanimously.
The other members of the panel — Democrats Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and Republicans Pat Roberts of Kansas, George Voinovich of Ohio and Craig Thomas of Wyoming — signed off on the letter.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., downplayed the findings Wednesday, stating that the ethics committee acted correctly and hoping it put an end to the issue.
"It is now clear from the committee's extensive review and findings that the sensational allegations made against Senator Torricelli by Mr. Chang have been proven false and without foundation," Daschle said in a statement.
Forrester said Daschle's response was "unacceptable."
"I can't tell you how disappointed I am to hear that the person who is leading the Senate is trying to sweep the significance of this under the rug," the would-be senator said. "It is really inappropriate of a Senate leader to try to do so."
"I believe that it is very important that anybody who attempts to minimize this or whitewash or it or to say 'Gee, it doesn't really matter,' is condoning behavior that is entirely unacceptable," Forrester said. "and inconsistent really with what an elected representative is supposed to do."