Federal Memo Says Torricelli Took Bribes for Political Favors

Jeff McKay | Correspondent | Friday, September 27, 2002

Federal Memo Says Torricelli Took Bribes for Political Favors

New and potentially damaging questions have surfaced after a federal appeals court ordered the release of a secret memorandum in which federal prosecutors probing Sen. Robert Torricelli's relationship with a Korean businessman determined that David Chang was "credible in most material aspects."

The memo prompted Doug Forrester to call for Torricelli's resignation. Forrester, a Republican, is challenging the Democrat for his U.S. Senate seat.

The nine-page memo was the subject of a court battle, as several media outlets fought to have it unsealed.

The memo, written after a three-year investigation, revealed that Chang spent "hundreds of hours" talking to prosecutors about his relationship with Torricelli. Chang spent even more time helping investigators "in locating and identifying documentary evidence that corroborated Chang's claims and identifying witnesses who could do the same."

The government decided not to prosecute Sen. Torricelli, based on its belief that Chang's past conduct would have undermined his credibility as a witness, and that some of Chang's allegations could not be fully corroborated.

However, evidence from the investigation was given to the Senate Ethics Committee, which issued a harsh rebuke to Torricelli. In July, the Senate Ethics Committee "severely admonished" Torricelli for accepting and failing to disclose gifts from Chang.

Immediately after the memo's release, Torricelli released a statement citing not only his innocence, but what he calls the truth about the messenger.

"The government confirmed what we have known all along -- this has been reviewed by the government and proven not to be true," stated Torricelli. "David Chang is a liar. He is a convicted felon and admitted perjurer."

That was not good enough for the chairman of the New Jersey Republican Party, nor was Torricelli's rival buying it.

"While no one disputes the fact that David Chang should be behind bars, the memo verifies that Mr. Chang's allegations against Senator Torricelli do in fact have credibility," said State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos, the New Jersey GOP chairman.

"This entire incident is a disgrace to the state of New Jersey and the United States Senate and brings us to the obvious conclusion that Senator Torricelli should resign immediately," he added.

"We call for Mr. Torricelli to resign his office for the sake of New Jersey's reputation," said Republican Senate candidate Doug Forrester. "We have to focus on the fact that Mr. Torricelli makes other elected officials look like they are on the take." Forrester has made Torricelli's ethical lapses the central theme of his campaign.

In an exclusive interview with WNBC-TV from prison, David Chang said, "I do not consider him (Torricelli) a Senator. I consider him a master criminal."

Chang also told WNBC-TV that money he gave Torricelli was used for the purchase of clothing, an antique clock, and a television; and he said Torricelli's spent some of it on his former girlfriends.

Chang alleges he gave Torricelli over $150,000 in cash and gifts over the span of several years in exchange for what he believed was the Torricelli's help in recouping millions of dollars he says is owed to him by the governments of North and South Korea for prior business dealings.

Chang is serving an 18-month prison sentence for making illegal donations to Torricelli in 1996. He has said Torricelli demanded donations and expensive gifts in exchange for his assistance, a charge that Torricelli vehemently denies.

The memo included recommendations for Chang's prison sentence, and alluded to a smear campaign launched against him by Torricelli to damage Chang's credibility.

"Chang's privacy was compromised to an unusual degree. Almost everywhere he went, members of the press pursued Chang and sought to interview him. Once certain allegations made by Chang were reported in the press, moreover, the Public Official (Torricelli) and his defenders launched a public campaign to vilify and discredit Chang, referring to him in press statements as a delusional perjurer and suggesting that his allegations were manufactured for political reasons," the letter said.

In terms of the election, the Democratic National Committee has identified the New Jersey Senate race as the Democrats' most vulnerable seat.

The DNC is expected to pour millions of dollars into New Jersey in order to keep this seat Democratic column come November. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) campaigned was in New Jersey earlier this week, campaigning for Torricelli on the same day that President Bush went to N.J. to campaign for Forrester.

The two most recent polls - conducted just before the memo's release - showed both Torricelli and Forrester in a statistical dead heat.

See Earlier Stories:
Torricelli Torched by Ethics in First Candidates' Debate (6 Sept. 2002)

Bush, Daschle Shine Senate Spotlight on New Jersey (23 Sept. 2002)