Two months of televised hearings at an end, the Senate Ethics Committee plans to wait two weeks before beginning private deliberations on a judgment for each of the Keating Five senators.
The ethics panel ended nine weeks of public testimony Wednesday with defense lawyers insisting that the senators did nothing wrong and were not motivated by campaign contributions when they intervened with regulators on behalf of savings and loan owner Charles H. Keating Jr."We have a heavy weight on our shoulders now that we must face and make a decision," said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., one of three Republicans on the six-member committee.
"They are our colleagues and our friends, and that makes the job awfully tough."
Chairman Howell Heflin, D-Ala., gave lawyers two weeks to file final briefs summarizing their cases, and said the committee will begin deliberations on Jan. 30.
A decision on serious punishment would be up to the full Senate. Heflin said the committee could recommend that the Senate censure, expel or strip leadership positions from any or all of the senators.
The panel could impose a lesser punishment, such as a letter of rebuke, on its own.
The five senators were subjected to the public hearings as part of the panel's investigation into their intervention with federal thrift regulators on behalf of Keating's Lincoln Savings and Loan in Irvine, Calif.
The five are Democrats Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, John Glenn of Ohio, Alan Cranston of California and Donald Riegle of Michigan and Republican John McCain of Arizona. Riegle is chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.
Lincoln's failure is expected to cost taxpayers about $2 billion to cover insured deposits.
Sen. Warren Rudman of New Hampshire, the committee's ranking Republican, said the panel faces two critical questions:
- Whether the senators acted improperly in dealing with the Federal Home Loan Bank Board on behalf of Keating. The senators held two meetings - all five senators attended one, and four another - with board regulators on behalf of Lincoln. Cranston and DeConcini later made repeated contacts before Lincoln was seized by the government in April 1989.
- Whether the senators' actions were in exchange for campaign contributions or other donations. Keating and his associates contributed $1.3 million to the lawmakers' re-election campaigns and related political causes.
While no committee member predicted what action the panel would take, there were signs that some expect the full Senate to be sent the case of at least one and perhaps more of the senators.
"I am troubled by a lot of what we've heard here," said Lott, who earlier declared he would be "absolutely amazed" if at least one case did not reach the Senate floor.
Committee special counsel Robert S. Bennett delivered a brief summation of his case, taking on arguments by Cranston and DeConcini that many senators take similar actions on behalf of constituents who happen to be contributors.
"A couple senators, to avoid personal accountability, have raised the `everybody does it' defense," Bennett said. "Everybody doesn't do it. Everybody doesn't do what was done here.
"If everybody does what was done here, then that means this place doesn't have an infection that can be cured - it means that you're terminal."
Bennett had argued that McCain and Glenn did nothing improper, but he made an impassioned presentation Tuesday that evidence suggested the other three senators had acted improperly.
Defense attorneys for each of the five senators delivered their response, and DeConcini alone among the senators spoke up in his own behalf during the concluding arguments.
"I violated no rule, no law, no standard, nor the spirit of those adopted by this body," he declared. "I did not violate my public trust here."
DeConcini said that any aid he provided Keating was not to help him individually but to protect his parent company and its 2,000 employees in his state of Arizona.
"I resent the fact that I have to stand here and tell this committee and the American public that I intervened for 2,000 Arizonans and not for Charles Keating," he said.