POLITICAL trivia junkies owe Sen. Robert Byrd of West...

THEO LIPPMAN JR.

October 25, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

POLITICAL trivia junkies owe Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia a real debt. He and the Senate Historical Office have been publishing a multi-volume history of the Senate for the past five years. This year brought "Historical Statistics, 1789-1992," edited by Wendy Wolfe.

As Ed would say to Johnny: "Everything you ever wanted to know about U.S. senators is in this book." To which the reply is, "Wrong, filibuster breath! It doesn't tell you about a fifth of the U.S. senators who have been indicted while in office."

Of course, there's a very good reason for this. The volume was completed at the end of last year. At that time only eight senators had ever been indicted. Two have been indicted this year.

One was David Durenberger, R-Minn. He was indicted last April on two charges of submitting false expense claims to the Senate. The other was Kay Bailey Hutchison. R-Texas. She was indicted last month on charges of using her state treasurer's office for personal and political purposes, then covering it up.

Senator Hutchison may be unindicted this week. A judge is expected to rule on her challenge to the grand jury's legitimacy. It was learned last week that one of the grand jurors who voted to indict her was himself the subject of a warrant for writing bad checks. Even in Texas grand jurors can't be crooks.

Two indicted senators serving together is no record. In the first decade of this century, three indicted senators served together.

The three were: Charles Dietrich, R-Neb., Joseph Burton, R-Kans., John Mitchell, R-Oregon. (You Democratic readers have surely noted that all five indicted senators mentioned so far are Republicans. For the record, two of the total of 10 ever indicted are Democrats.)

Senator Dietrich was charged with taking a bribe for appointing a postmaster. He was acquitted. Senator Burton was charged with "receiving compensation for services rendered before a federal department." Senator Mitchell was charged with "having received fees for expediting the land claims of clients before the U.S. Land Commission." He was convicted.

Senator Burton resigned from the Senate to avoid being expelled and served five months in prison. Senators think expulsion is a fate worse than death. They all have tattoos on their arms: "Death before Dishonor." Senator Mitchell was relieved to die while his conviction was on appeal and before the Senate could act.

Hutchison and Durenberger may or may not take heart from the fact that indicted senators usually do not get convicted. In addition to Mitchell and Burton, only Harrison Williams, D-N.J., ever was. Williams and Burton are the only two senators ever to go to prison. Williams was convicted in 1981 on charges of conspiracy, bribery, conflict of interest, receiving a criminal gratuity, aiding a racketeering enterprise. He entered what is known as the New Jersey Defense: "That's illegal?"

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