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Lawyer for Hyde Hired Detective

Hyde House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde. (Reuters)

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  • By Juliet Eilperin
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Saturday, October 31, 1998; Page A6

    The attorney for House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) hired a private investigator in 1995 to probe the background of one of the congressman's critics in order to determine how to respond to him, according to Hyde spokesman Sam Stratman.

    Stratman, who first made the remarks to the Chicago Tribune on Thursday, clarified an Oct. 15 statement of Hyde's in which the veteran Republican indicated "a mutual friend" had hired Chicago detective Ernie Rizzo on his behalf without his knowledge. Hyde initially said he did not pay for the job.

    Posing as a television journalist interested in producing a piece on the subject, Rizzo obtained information in 1995 from Illinois bank consultant Tim Anderson, who questioned Hyde's role in the $67 million federal bailout of Clyde Federal Savings & Loan Association. Anderson, who began focusing on S&L failures when his own hometown institution was collapsing, provided Rizzo and several reporters documents showing that Hyde approved two board decisions which ultimately produced nearly $14 million in losses for Clyde.

    Stratman emphasized yesterday that while Hyde "did not hire Mr. Rizzo, nor did he have any personal contact with him," the congressman's lawyer, James Schirott, hired the detective after Anderson began suggesting to journalists that they probe Hyde's activities as a Clyde board member between 1981 and 1984. Though the Resolution Trust Corporation filed suit against Hyde and Clyde's other officers and directors for their role in the S&L's collapse, the government ultimately settled the case for an $850,000 payment. Hyde did not participate in the settlement.

    "Mr. Schirott retained the services of Mr. Rizzo without prior discussion with Mr. Hyde," Stratman said. "Mr. Rizzo had done unrelated work for Mr. Schirott's office and was retained in this matter to do a background check on an individual who was making malicious, arguably slanderous and libelous allegations about the now-dismissed S&L litigation."

    Hyde's statement that it was his lawyer, not a friend acting independently, came just a few days after the Congressional Accountability Project, a public watchdog group, urged the House ethics committee to probe whether the investigation, if financed by a friend, amounted to an improper gift to Hyde.

    Stratman said Hyde reimbursed Schirott for Rizzo's work, which Schirott estimated cost $2,000, as part of an overall payment of "more than $20,000 to Mr. Schirott for legal services and expenses."

    Rizzo has not publicly revealed how much he was paid for his services, though he told Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, he would normally charge $10,000 for a job similar to his probe of Anderson. In an interview with California radio host Dennis Burnstein, Rizzo said he could only provide details of the two-month investigation if he received permission from his client to talk.

    "Apparently he was following a particular lawsuit a little too close. Some of the parties involved in the lawsuit wanted to know what his interest was," said Rizzo.

    Congressional Accountability Project director Gary Ruskin questioned why Hyde "changed his story," and called on the chairman to release evidence proving his lawyer paid Rizzo for the probe.

    "Will Chairman Hyde release Rizzo to tell the full story of the work that he did for Hyde?" Ruskin asked.

    When asked whether Hyde would allow the detective to discuss the matter, Stratman responded that only Schirott could make that decision because he originally hired Rizzo.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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