Feelings Ran High in House Probe, Transcripts Show
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The chief House lawyer was irate when he spoke to congressional investigators in 1992, telling them he would forever be tarred as the person who ″engaged in a coverup″ of the House Post Office scandal.
Such a label would be wrong, Steven Ross told the investigators in previously secret testimony reviewed by The Associated Press. ″I don’t need to be defensive,″ Ross declared.
The transcripts show that top Capitol Police officials had another view of Ross’ actions. They were upset because he successfully recommended to federal prosecutors that Congress’ police force be pulled off the post office case - which began with allegations of embezzlement by low level clerks.
″I had never confronted anything quite like that before″ during 25 years as a Capitol policeman, Frank A. Kerrigan - Congress’ police chief when the probe began - told investigators.
And Kerrigan’s chief investigator, Mack Kennedy, was displeased, too, the transcripts showed.
″I said I have been a police officer for 32 years of my life,″ he recalled telling Ross, who informed him the Capitol Police lacked the expertise to handle the investigation.
″If I were only this legislative employee, not a police officer, why would you give me a badge, a gun and permission to carry it on boats, planes, college campuses all over the country and give me the power of arrest? I feel that I am a police officer,″ Kennedy said.
The House voted 399-2 Thursday to release these and other transcripts from the 1992 House Post Office investigation by the Committee on House Administration.
However, it is expected to take several weeks before the records are formally made public because they will first be reviewed by both parties. The AP was able to read some of the transcripts prior to release.
The 1992 probe found mismanagement at the post office, but offered no conclusions about stamps-for-cash schemes that subsequently raised concerns about lawmaker misconduct.
Former House Postmaster Robert V. Rota, in a guilty plea, admitted providing illegal cash to lawmakers. He also admitted that he had lied when he denied knowledge of such a scheme to the House investigators.
Rep. Dan Rostenkowski has been charged with receiving some of the illegal cash.
Ross, in the transcripts, acknowledged he had persuaded the U.S. attorney’s office that the Postal Inspection Service - part of the Justice Department - was more competent to handle allegations of embezzlement at the post office.
And he told investigators he had sent word to House Post Office employees that they could refuse Capitol Police requests for voluntary interviews. He said:
″I am resigned to the fact that for most of the remainder of my professional life, one thing that will always be said is that Steve Ross was alleged to have engaged in a coverup.
″Quite to the contrary, I don’t feel a need to be defensive about the action of calling in the postal inspectors,″ he commented. ″Nor,″ he added, ″do I think anybody in the nation would feel defensive about suggesting that someone who is going to be interviewed by law enforcement authorities should be told they have the right to counsel and that interviews are voluntary.″
The Capitol Police had control over the post office probe from April 1991 through January 1992. The probe initially involved embezzlement by low-level clerks.
Kerrigan was retired when he was interviewed in mid-1992, and on the transcripts he tells congressional investigators about his decision to secretly tape a meeting in June 1991 with Ross - who now is in private practice.
The meeting concerned Ross’ desire to remove the Capitol Police from the probe. Portions of the tape were played last week by Cable News Network.
Kerrigan, under questioning from House Administration Committee staff member Heidi Pender, suggested the U.S. attorney’s office unwittingly approved his taping of the chief House counsel.
Pender: Did anyone advise you to check it with the U.S. attorney before you decided to do it?
Kerrigan: I don’t think so. I probably did it on my own, I think, to make sure I was going to be legal in doing it.
Pender: The U.S. attorney advised you it would be legal to tape a conversation with the lawyer of the House of Representatives?
Kerrigan: I didn’t tell him who I was taping.