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Capitol Police Upset When Post Office Probe Taken Away From Them

June 10, 1994

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Congress’ former police chief says he never confronted anything ″quite like that before.″ It was clearly a chagrined Frank A. Kerrigan testifying about a decision to wrest control of the House Post Office probe from his department.

Previously secret transcripts of a 1992 congressional investigation into the House Post Office scandal show that the Capitol Police Department’s chief criminal investigator, Mack Kennedy, was pretty steamed, too.

″I said I have been a police officer for 32 years of my life,″ he recalled telling the chief House attorney, who informed him the department 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.

But the transcripts, reviewed Thursday by The Associated Press, showed that the House’s chief counsel at the time, Steven R. Ross, was angry that news reports had left the impression he engineered a coverup.

Yes, he acknowledged in the transcripts, 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 yes, Ross told investigators, he sent word to House Post Office employees that they could refuse Capitol Police requests for voluntary interviews. An enraged Ross told investigators:

″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 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.

Republicans said they hoped release of the records will raise more questions about possible misconduct, and lead to a new investigation by the House ethics committee.

Among the unanswered questions: whether lawmakers received illegal cash from the post office; and whether taking the probe away from the Capitol police was an attempt by Democratic leaders to squelch the investigation.

A separate criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office resulted last week in the indictment of Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., who said he will plead innocent at his arraignment today.

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 with Ross in June 1991. 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 said he hid the mini-recorder in his television cabinet because ″I decided at that time to protect myself and to protect the department from ever being accused of stopping an investigation on our own.″

At another point he said, ″I had never confronted anything quite like that before.″

Kerrigan, under questioning from House Administration Committee staffer Heidi Pender, said the U.S. attorney’s office unwittingly approved his taping of the chief House counsel.

The chief said he told an attorney for the Capitol Police in advance that he would tape the meeting and added he also called the U.S. attorney’s office but that he didn’t say who he would be taping.

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