McMillen in Foul Trouble?

November 19, 1991

Sometimes Maryland Rep. Tom McMillen must wish he were back in the National Basketball Association tossing up jump shots for the Washington Bullets instead of taking the flak he's received recently on Capitol Hill.

First he was victimized by a furious zone-trap defense thrown up by other Maryland representatives during the drawn-out congressional redistricting dispute that left him bereft of his old district. Now he's been accused of an offensive foul for meeting with a federal savings and loan regulator on behalf of a foundering Annapolis thrift.

If Mr. McMillen were a Bullet forward right now, the coach would yank him off the court and tell him to take a breather while he regains his composure. It's been a losing fall season for the lanky congressman.

The latest controversy raises questions about the propriety of Mr. McMillen's meeting with a regional S&L regulator in Atlanta in 1990 to inquire about a recapitalization plan for an Annapolis S&L partly owned by his friends and campaign supporters. The congressman, who had previously served on the House committee that overseas S&Ls, says he often meets with federal officials "on behalf of numerous constituents" and "there was nothing out of the ordinary in my meeting."

If that's the case, why did Mr. McMillen secretly tape-record the session? And given the public furor over the Keating Five's intercession with S&L officials to help a friend and contributor, why didn't the congressman simply put his questions in writing to allay concerns that he might be trying to unduly influence federal regulators?

As things turned out, the McMillen meeting was uneventful and unsuccessful: Two months later, regulators took over First Annapolis Savings Bank. Mr. McMillen's fellow business investor and campaign contributor, Edward O. Wayson Jr., lost his stake in the S&L.

Now the congressman has asked the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to clear him of any wrongdoing. He has his secretly recorded tape of the meeting to back him up. Yet he fears his political enemies will try to capitalize on this controversy. He's probably right about that. It makes one wonder why Mr. McMillen decided to initiate the S&L meeting in the first place.

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