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Ethics Panel Readying for Hearings Against Durenberger

March 6, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate Ethics Committee is preparing for trial-like hearings against Sen. Dave Durenberger, without any expectation of plea bargain negotiations that could short-circuit the case, sources familiar with the investigation said Tuesday.

The committee set the stage last week for the hearings, when it formally notified the Minnesota Republican there was ″substantial credible evidence″ of five specific rules violations and a sixth governing general conduct expected of a senator.

Durenberger, who has admitted mistakes in judgment but no willful wrongdoing, ″may have″ violated outside income limits and other rules in his promotion of two books he wrote, the committee said. He also potentially violated annual limits on receipt of gifts, the committee said, when he accepted nearly $5,000 worth of limousine trips for personal travel in 1985 and 1986.

One source, speaking only on the condition of anonymity, said the committee’s ″main focus″ has been to plan for the trial-like proceedings. The panel would not be going ahead with planning work if it appeared now that the case could be settled through plea bargaining, the source said.

However, the scenario could change at any point in the process if Durenberger decided to negotiate a resolution to the case before the committee made a determination of whether he had violated the rules.

A plea bargain would involve an admission by Durenberger that violations took place and would stop any efforts by the committee to recommend punishment to the Senate. Disciplinary action, under the rules, could involve censure, expulsion or a recommendation to either political party that a senator lose seniority or a position of responsibility.

Durenberger’s spokeswoman, Carrie Collins, had no comment on the senator’s strategy.

No date has been set for the hearings, sources said, because at least one aspect of the investigation is still in an early stage.

The panel announced Feb. 22 that ″the committee is continuing its preliminary inquiry″ on reimbursements Durenberger received for rent on a Minneapolis condominium he partly owned.

To include the condominium arrangement in the trial-like hearing, the committee would have to find ″substantial credible evidence″ of a violation.

Under committee rules, the panel must give Durenberger ″an opportunity″ for a hearing ″before it recommends disciplinary action″ to the Senate.

However, one source said the committee is planning to go ahead with the hearing, whether Durenberger requests one or not, because it is ″in the public interest.″