House post office probe escalates Rep. Rostenkowski's records among those subpoenaed by jury.

May 15, 1992|By Art Pine | Art Pine,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- A federal grand jury investigating the House Post Office scandal has widened its probe to include Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., chairman of the House ways and Means Committee, and two other lawmakers, House leaders have disclosed.

In a major escalation of the investigation,the grand jury subpoenaed Mr. Rostenkowski's expense records, along with those of two Pennsylvania Democrats, Reps. Austin J. Murphy and Joseph Kolter, and ordered all three men to appear before the panel for questioning.

It also issued a subpoena against Jack Russ, former sergeant-at-arms of the House, who also has been named in allegations concerning the now-defunct House bank. The subpoenas involving all four men call for expense records going back six years.

The series of actions, disclosed yesterday by House Republicans, marked the first time that members of Congress have been implicated in the Post Office investigation. Until now, the investigation has focused solely on allegations of embezzlement and drug-dealing by employees.

Mr. Rostenkowski was not available for comment when news of the subpoenas broke, but a spokesman said later that the Chicago-area lawmaker had received "no indication" of why the jury might want to see his records. "It's an opaque request," the spokesman said.

Issuance of the subpoenas -- particularly Mr. Rostenkowski's -- came as a jolt to House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., who already has been under fire for his handling of the House bank scandal. As Ways and Means chairman, Mr. Rostenkowski is a member of the House leadership.

It also could cloud Mr. Rostenkowski's political prospects. The stocky Ways and Means chairman won a tough primary race earlier this year and was considered all but unbeatable. Analysts said it was too early to assess the impact of the subpoenas on his re-election prospects.

The two other lawmakers, Mr. Murphy and Mr. Kolter, both issued statements in response to the subpoena disclosures, saying they do not believe they have done anything wrong and were willing to cooperate.

Five clerks and one supervisor already have been indicted, and four of the clerks have pleaded guilty, officials said. The supervisor, Dorothea Niki Risenhoover of Alexandria, Va., pleaded not guilty to charges of cocaine possession and conspiring to cover up embezzlement.

Disclosure of the subpoenas came during questioning by House Republicans, who seized on the incident to excoriate Mr. Foley for not having formally notified other members, as House rules require.

The speaker said that he had delayed making the subpoenas public until House lawyers had been able to clarify the scope of the questioning. Mr. Foley said that U.S. Attorney Jay B. Stephens had since modified his request informally, but Foley did not specify how.

Despite Mr. Foley's explanations, a few minutes later the House voted 324-3 to approve a GOP-sponsored resolution calling on the House to provide the subpoenaed documents and demanding an explanation from the speaker for his delay in notifying other lawmakers.

Foley told reporters later that complying with the grand jury request would take several days, but the Rostenkowski's spokesman said the records had been delivered.

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