Rostenkowski defiantly maintains innocence

June 11, 1994|By Knight-Ridder New Service

WASHINGTON -- Humble in the courtroom but defiant on the courthouse steps, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski quietly pleaded not guilty yesterday to multiple charges of fraud and embezzlement then boomed to reporters that he would "fight these false charges and prevail."

Mr. Rostenkowski was barely audible as he told U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson that he understood the charges against him. He stood motionless at a witness lectern as lawyers discussed conditions for continuing bail on Mr. Rostenkowski's personal bond.

And the 66-year-old Chicagoan remained a model of humility in the packed courtroom as Judge Johnson said she would consider setting a trial date at a July 8 status hearing.

A few minutes later the bull-shouldered Mr. Rostenkowski, deposed as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee when he was indicted 10 days ago, marched to the microphones on the courthouse plaza.

There he defiantly read a prepared statement reiterating hisinnocence and will to fight.

"I will wash away the mud splattered on my reputation," he thundered.

Mr. Rostenkowski scoffed at the charges brought by U.S. Attorney Eric Holder, suggesting they would not hold up under rigorous examination at trial.

Mr. Rostenkowski's attorney, Chicago defense lawyer Dan Webb, called the 17-count bill of particulars against his client a "kitchen-sink indictment," the kind brought by prosecutors unsure of their case.

"They've thrown every conceivable charge against him, no matter how weak it is," Mr. Webb said, by focusing the tremendous power of the resources of the federal government "like a laser beam on one individual."

Some of the charges, Mr. Webb contended, raise "grave and serious constitutional concerns" that he may challenge before the case comes to trial.

Any constitutional challenge would probably go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and could delay a trial for years.

Mr. Webb said charges that Mr. Rostenkowski used his office accounts to hire no-show employees and pay for gifts for friends and political associates were an effort by the executive branch to "encroach upon and interfere with congressional prerogatives."

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