Keating's 'wimp' remark used in McCain's defense

November 21, 1990|By Tom Webb | Tom Webb,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- Six members of one of the world's greatest deliberative bodies considered yesterday the question of which U.S. senator had been called a "wimp."

At Senate ethics hearings on the so-called "Keating Five," two staffers for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., recounted that in March 1987, savings and loan owner Charles H. Keating Jr. angrily called their boss "a wimp" for refusing to pressure S&L regulators on Mr. Keating's behalf.

Mr. Keating's "wimp" remark made Mr. McCain furious and ended their friendship. That tale was recounted yesterday as evidence that Mr. McCain was only trying to save Arizona jobs -- not help Mr. Keating -- when he met with S&L regulators on Mr. Keating's behalf a month later, in April 1987.

"In essence, John [McCain] went to that meeting despite Charlie Keating, not because of Charlie Keating," testified Christopher Koch, Mr. McCain's top Senate aide.

Mr. Koch described how Mr. McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, angrily confronted Mr. Keating when he first heard the "wimp" remark.

"I remember vividly him telling Mr. Keating that he hadn't spent 5 1/2 years of his life in a prisoner-of-war camp to have his courage or his integrity questioned. And he gave Mr. Keating a dressing down, the likes of which I, in my experience on the Hill, had never experienced a senator giving a major employer of his state. It was startling to me."

Under cross-examination, the attorney for Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., offered a unique line of questioning. Isn't it true, the attorney asked Mr. Koch, that Mr. DeConcini was also called "a wimp"?

"I don't recall it, Mr. Hamilton, because it never happened," Mr. Koch told Mr. DeConcini's attorney, James Hamilton.

"How can you be so sure it never happened?" the attorney asked. Mr. Koch stood firm, insisting that only one senator -- his boss -- had been called a wimp.

"One thing you're never going to shake me on is the wimp remark, because that was burned so indelibly in my brain that there's no line of questioning that's ever going to shake that, Mr. Hamilton," Mr. Koch said.

Yesterday marked the fourth day of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics' hearings into the Keating case. The six-member ethics panel is trying to determine whether five senators improperly intervened on Mr. Keating's behalf in exchange for $1.3 million in political contributions.

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