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Keating Five Lawyers Plead for Exoneration as Hearings Near End

January 16, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Arizona Sen. Dennis DeConcini pleaded for exoneration from the Senate Ethics Committee today as lawyers for the Keating Five wound up two months of hearings into the help the lawmakers provided savings and loan owner Charles H. Keating Jr.

″I know where the line is; I know what you can do and what you can’t do,″ DeConcini said. ″And I acted properly.″

DeConcini, delivering an impassioned plea in his own defense, was the only one of the five senators under investigation to speak during time set aside for closing arguments by defense lawyers.

Lawyers for each of the senators insisted on their clients’ innocence as the committee prepared to bring down the curtain on two months of televised testimony and begin private deliberations toward a decision in the case of each and possible punishment.

DeConcini insisted his actions with federal regulators were taken not because Keating was a contributor to his campaign but because Keating’s parent company employed 2,000 people in Arizona.

″I did not violate my public trust here,″ DeConcini said. ″What I did was expected of me. It is expected of me to stand up for Arizonans.″

DeConcini’s lawyer, James Hamilton, accused the panel’s special counsel, Robert S. Bennett, of trying to establish a new standard of conduct based on the appearance of a conflict of interest. It would be a standard, he said, stricter than anything the Senate has adopted.

William Taylor III, attorney for California Sen. Alan Cranston, complained that Cranston was being unfairly accused of impropriety as he nears the end of his public career. Cranston, who has said he will not run for re-election in 1992, is in California receiving treatment for prostate cancer.

″Now in the twilight of his career, Alan Cranston must face the accusation ... that he became Charles Keating’s marionette and singlehandedly changed the course of decisions at the Federal Home Loan Bank Board,″ Taylor said. ″Members of the committee, that is preposterous.″

Three of the five senators under investigation were in the hearing room for their final arguments: DeConcini, and Sens. John Glenn, D-Ohio, and Donald Riegle, D-Mich.

Today’s arguments were the culmination of two months of public, televised hearings and more than a year of committee investigation into allegations the senators improperly intervened with federal regulators on behalf of Keating, a savings and loan owner who was a major financial contributor to their campaigns.

John Dowd, attorney for Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, defended McCain’s actions as proper and principled in his dealings on behalf of Keating and his Lincoln Savings and Loan.

″When Charlie Keating asked him to negotiate for Lincoln Savings and Loan, John McCain said ‘No’,″ Dowd told the ethics panel.

″He is entitled to a straight, crisp, clear answer from all of you,″ Dowd said. ″Senator McCain is entitled to an individual judgment without regard to the conduct of others or partisan considerations.″

Charles Ruff, attorney for Glenn, said Glenn had followed the highest ethical standards and that nothing in eight weeks of testimony indicated otherwise.

″Senator Glenn doesn’t want to skate by here,″ Ruff said. ″He wants you to test him by the toughest ethical standards you can devise for yourself, your colleagues and him. And he meets that standard.″

Tom Green, attorney for Riegle, defended Riegle’s actions as proper and noted he was the only one of the five senators who attended just one - and not two - meetings with federal regulators on behalf of Keating.

″Senator Riegle had less contact with the regulators than any other senator in the case,″ Green said. ″Senator Riegle never asked anyone to do anything or not do anything for Lincoln.″

Committee special counsel Robert S. Bennett on Tuesday presented the case against three of the five senators.

Bennett said he found no impropriety on the part of Glenn and McCain. Bennett had recommended they be dropped from the case before the hearings began two months ago, but the committee decided to keep them a part of the public inquiry - prompting complaints from McCain and Republicans that there were partisan motives.

Bennett focused his case on the remaining three: - Riegle, who is now chairman of the Senate Banking Committee; Arizona Sen. Dennis DeConcini; and California Sen. Alan Cranston - and said the panel’s decision will determine Americans’ respect for the Senate.

″You are holding in your collective hands the political heart and soul of this country,″ Bennett told the three Democrats and three Republicans on the ethics panel. ″Whatever decision you make ... the American people are either going to have more or less respect for this institution.″

The five are under investigation for their actions on behalf of Keating, who contributed or raised $1.3 million for their campaigns and related causes while he was seeking their help with federal regulators for his troubled Lincoln Savings and Loan in Irvine, Calif.

Lincoln’s subsequent failure is expected to cost taxpayers about $2 billion to cover insured deposits.

Bennett repeatedly questioned the credibility of Riegle’s testimony to the committee, in which the senator maintained he remembered little or nothing about key meetings.

Bennett said evidence contradicted Riegle’s contention that he did not know contributions would be provided when he visited Keating’s Arizona headquarters in March 1987, a month before the senators held critical meetings with federal S&L regulators.

Bennett said evidence suggests DeConcini tried to negotiate on behalf of Lincoln in the meeting with regulators. He cited memos by DeConcini’s banking aide that stated Keating’s proposed negotiating position.

Cranston, he said, solicited or accepted large contributions from Keating at least four times while ″knowing full well Mr. Keating recently had requested or received the senators’ assistance for Lincoln.″

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