Embezzlement scandal threatens key Clinton ally

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The Independent Online
A CORRUPTION scandal in the post office of the House of Representatives may lead to the indictment of Dan Rostenkowski, a congressional ally of Mr Clinton. A former House postmaster told prosecutors he helped Mr Rostenkowski embezzle dollars 21,300 (pounds 14,200) by doctoring his expenses.

Robert Rota pleaded guilty to conspiracy and embezzlement, saying he helped congressmen to embezzle tens of thousands of dollars between 1972 and 1991. Although Mr Rota spoke of Congressman A during the hearings, documents submitted to the Washington court identify Mr Rostenkowski, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

A powerful congressman, Mr Rostenkowsi, an Illinois Democrat, has an important role in getting Mr Clinton's economic programme through Congress. His support will be vital when Congress considers health care reform and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The scandal started in 1991 when a clerk was found stealing cash from a post office branch on Capitol Hill. An investigation revealed a web of petty corruption whereby congressmen would claim to have obtained pens, stationery and postage from the post office. Congressmen have expense accounts to meet these needs which can be drawn on by presentation of a voucher.

Mr Rota, 58, who had started as a cloakroom attendant, became known as somebody who would always do a favour for a congressman. He would ask them: 'What can I do for you?' In practice, this meant he would often give cash rather than stamps when a voucher was presented. J Ramsey Johnson, the US Attorney in Washington, said: 'Over the course of two decades, at the insistence of certain congressmen, Mr Rota repeatedly took cash from the House post office funds and turned it over to these members.'

Mr Rota, a patronage appointee, helped the congressmen as a political favour and made no money out of the scheme. He and another post office official have agreed to give evidence against politicians whom they formerly helped to embezzle funds. If Mr Rostenkowski is indicted, it will not only hurt Mr Clinton but will further damage the reputation of the House of Representatives, already hurt by a banking scandal.

The probability of Mr Rostenkowski being indicted comes as Mr Clinton is making progress in defusing the row over the rights of homosexuals in the military. Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Mr Clinton's formula whereby homosexual conduct rather than status will be penalised, was 'an honourable compromise' after 'difficult' debates. He said he and the other chiefs of the armed forces 'fully, fully support' the solution to the debate.

Gen Powell and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were the most important opponents of Mr Clinton's pledge to end the ban on homesexuals in the military. Sam Nunn, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he would introduce legislation to bar people with 'a propensity to engage in homosexual acts'. But with the new formula supported by the Joint Chiefs, congressional opposition is likely to diminish.

Supporters of a total lifting of the ban on homosexuals in the military accept that Mr Clinton did as much for them as he could. They are encouraged that the Colorado Supreme Court has voided a measure against homosexual rights passed by voters in Colorado last year. The vote led to a boycott of the state by supporters of gay rights. The Court says that an individual's 'fundamental rights may not be submitted to a vote.'

(Photograph omitted)

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