A list that details alleged payments from South Korean businessman Tongsun Park to more than 20 members of Congress and some other public officials is the focus of a potential legal battle between the Justice Department and the House committee investigating charges of South Korean influence buying.
The Justice Department subpoenaed the list, and some supporting documents, from a former Park employee, Jay Shin Ryu, but has refused so far to give the material to the House investigators, according to sources familiar with the dispute.
More than a month ago, Philip A. Lacovara, then special counsel to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, recommended that the committee subpoena the documents from the Justice Department if necessary.
But Rep. John J. Flynt Jr., (D-Ga.), the committee chairman, rejected the request, precipitating a feud that led to Lacovara's sudden resignation two weeks ago.
Now Leon Jaworski, the former Watergate special prosecutor who succeeded his former assistant as the committee's new special counsel, has written Attorney General Griffin B. Bell, making it clear he will subpoena the documents if necessary.
In a telephone interview from Houston yesterday, Jaworski said he wrote Bell last Thursday expressing hope that the parallel, but separate, criminal and house investigations could work together.
"But I said that I was insisting on some action," Jaworski said. "I'm a good friend of Judge Bell's, but if he doesn't deliver those documents, we'll go to court," he added.
The list is said to date back to the early 1970s when Ryu was a top assistant to Tongsun Park in Washington. The House committee considers it crucial to its investigation of alleged payments to members by representatives of the South Korean government.
Sources familiar with the list said it contains the names of executive branch officials as well as members of Congress, with figures indicating payments next to the names.
The figure translate into what Park claimed were payments that mounted into the thousands of dollars in some cases, sources said. The supporting documents apparently explain why the payments were made.
By itself, the list would not prove that the payments were actually made, but it would give investigators leads to follow.
The names of the person on the list could not be learned.
Benjamin R. Civiletti, head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, said yesterday that he thought the department had worked out an agreement with the committee about access to the list. He added, however, that the department felt that some "textual material" - an apparent reference to the supporting documents - might relate to possible prosecutions and shouldn't be released.
The House committee lawyers are known to feel that the department has no legal justification for keping the material from them.
Sources familiar with the situation said that the documents were subpoenaed from Ryu's home after his former wife told FBI agents that he kept a large file of work papers at home "that was supposed to be a big secret."
Ryu was a classmate of Tongsun Park's in the early 1970s at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. Other Park associates have told investigators that Ryu was Park's closest confident in the early 1970s and the only person he trusted enough to deliver money.
Sources have conformed that in at least one instance Ryu made a hurried flight from Washington to Chicago during that time period to deliver money to a congressman on Park's behalf.
Ryu has been cooperating with both the Justice Department and House investigations, sources said but had turned over his only copies of the most important documents to Justice before the House committee interview him.
Thus the House committee has had to go to Justice to gain access to the material. Justice has tried to protect the documents because they have been used as evidence before a grand jury. But House committee attorneys reason that they have an equal right to material that belonged to a third party.
Ryu and Tongsun Park had a serious falling out in late 1972. In a suit filed nearly two years later, Ryu claimed that Park owed him $30,000 on a promissory note. A month later, Park countersued, saying Ryu had withdrawn $200,000 from one of his bank accounts and converted it to his own use.
In late 1974, the case was settled out of court. A source familiar with the case that Ryu settled for less than he asked for because Park had used the Korean government to bring pressure on him.
Park has been a central figure in the investigations because U.S. intelligence reports have identified him as an operative of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency who made large cash payments to some members of Congress as part of a campaign to assure continued U.S. aid.
By September, 1976, Ryu and Park were back in business together. Ryu was listed as a director, along with Park, of the California-based Pacific Enterprises, Inc., a firm exporting and importing food products.
As recently as this past January, Ryu visited with Park in London, where Park relocated last fall after the investigations heated up. But just a few weeks ago, Ryu reportedly once again severed all ties with Park.