The House ethics committee is subpoenaing several former congressmen, including Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards, to answer questions about gifts and cash they received while in Congress from the South Korean government.
The committee's action, which signals quickening in the pace of its inquiry, will enable its investigators to question under oath in closed session subpoenaed prospective witnesses in preparation for public hearings before the end of the summer.
Gov. Edwards confirmed through an aide in Baton Rouge yesterday that he and his wife had been subpoenaed to appear for questioning before the committee next month. Edwards has acknowledged that South Korean businessman Tongsun Park gave his wife $10,000 in 1971 when Edwards was a congressman campaigning for [TAX OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
Park is a key figure in current congressional and Justice Department investigations into charges that the South Korean government funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts to members of Congress over the past several years to gain support for the regime of President Park Chung Hee.
Committee investigators who served the subpoenas on Edwards and his wife at the Governor's Mansion in Baton Rouge yesterday morning also were reported to be serving other subpoenas in Louisana to persons, including associates of former Rep. Otto Passman (D-La.), involved with the sale of rice to South Korea.
The names of other former congressmen on the committee's subpoena list could not be learned yesterday. Current members of Congress who have acknowledged accepting gifts from Tungsun Park or other South Koreans have thus far agreed to cooperate with the committee.
The ethics committee would be able to discipline only present members of Congress who took gifts. But its investigators are also seeking information from former members because the committee has a mandate from the House to determine the scope of the South Korean influence-buying scheme, according to Philip A. Lacovara, the committee's special counsel for the investigation.
Sources familiar with the ethics committee inquiry say that "literally dozens" of subpoenas for records and personal appearances have been authorized by the committee.
But until this week's serving of subpoenas on former members, the committee's investigators have focused on obtaining records and questioning former aides of congressmen and former employees of Park.
In a bizarre occurence two weeks ago, for instance, the committee issued a subpoena for shredded documents that two freelance reporters had picked up from Park's Pacific Development, Inc., office in Washington.
It is also known that the committee has questioned Clyde Vidrine, a former aide to Gov. Edwards who has charged publicly that Tongsun Park gave $20,000 to Edwards.
Edwards has denied that allegation and counterchanged that Vidrine has a personal vendetta against him. The governor's spokeman said yesterday that Edwards and his wife would comply with the ethics committee subpoena but make no further public statements about the investigation.
The $10,000 Mrs. Edwards said she received from Tongsun Park was the subject of an Internal Revenue Service Investigation a few years ago.
The committee investigators in Louisiana also reportedly have been interviewing other potential witnesses in the state.
Louisiana politicians and rice have been a central issue in the South Korean investigators because of Tongsun Park's role as a middleman in the sale of the commodity to his homeland.
The Washington Post reported last fall that U.S. intelligence agencies discovered in 1970 that Park Chung Hee was planning to use commissions earned by Tongsun Park on the rice sales to finance South Korea's lobbying effort on Capitol Hill.
Louisiana's Passman was a key figure in the rice sales equation because of his position as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that set U.S. foreign aid commitments.
James Hamilton, Passman's lawyer, had no comment yesterday when asked if his client was among those being subpoenaed by the ethics committee.
The pace of the committee's investigation has been a subject of some dispute among its own members. Rep. Bruce F. Caputo (R.N.Y.), who has been especially critical of his colleagues, has urged early public hearings on a test case.
But yesterday Caputo said he was pleased with the news of the subpoenas of former members. "i think it's great," he said "and I'm sure that Mr. Lacovara will continue to gather evidence as quickly as possible."
Lacovara has said previously that he didn't expect the investigators would be prepared to hold public hearings until late this year. But yesterday he said he was hopeful that hearings could be held this summer, perhaps as early as late July.