The disputed $35,000 legal bill from the former special counsel to the House committee investigating South Korean influence-buying in Congress could have been higher, the General Accounting Office has found.
The GAO examined the June time sheets of Philip A. Lacovara's firm after Rep. John J. Flynt Jr. (D-Ga.), chairman of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, criticized the bill and implied that the committee had been overcharged.
Last month, in the midst of a personal feud that led to Lacovara's sudden resignation, Flynt said that the bill was "incredible" and that he "questioned the amount of time (469.5 hours) alleged in it."
Sources familiar with the GAO report, which was handdelivered to Flynt's committee office earlier this week, said the auditors found that the Lacovara firm, Hughes Hubbard & Reed, worked about 45 hours more than it billed the committee for in June. At $75 an hour, the amount called for in the firm's contract with the committee, that would have been an additional $3.375.
Lacovara said yesterday, "I'm pleased that the GAO report confirmed that any insinuation that our statements were improper or inflated was baseless."
Lacovara said he had no intention of billing the committee for that additional amount. The firm has not yet been paid for the original amount billed, he added.
In a telephone interview from Georgia yesterday, Flynt said the GAO did support the Lacovara billing and that he approved payment of it yesterday while in Washington for a special meeting of the committee.
He said he didn't remember any reference in the one-page report to a finding that the firm had undercharged the committee.
Flynt said that "under no circumstances did I ever intend to question Mr. Lacovara's integrity. But it was the largest bill ever submitted to a congressional committee, and I just wanted to be sure I was on solid ground before approving it."
He said there was "never anything personal" about his disagreements with Lacovara.
His call for a GAO audit of the legal bill was part of sharp personal attack he delivered against Lacovara in mid-July, shortly after press reports of two Lacovara memos which criticized Flynt's handling of the committee's investigation.
Flynt also at the time called Lacovara "susceptible to temper tantrums and ego trips." The counsel resigned the next day and was replaced a week later by Leon Jaworski, the second Watergate special prosecutor.
Meanwhile yesterday, Suzi Park Thomson, an aide to former House Speaker Carl Albert (D-0kla.), finally agreed to answer questions by committee investigators. She had refused earlier requests, and relented when faced with the probability of a contempt citation.
She told reporters after her five hour, closed-door appearance that she knew nothing about South Korean payments to members of Congress and repeated earlier her public denials of reports the Korean government paid for the frequent parties she held for members of Congress.
Thomson has been identified in U.S. intelligence reports as an operative for the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, a report she denied again yesterday to reporters.
She appeared yesterday with her 4-year-old niece, who carried a large toy bird that said "I love you." There were reports that Thomson's testimony was interrupted occasionally by the bird's endearment.
In Seoul, meanwhile, South Korea's major opposition party called on its government to cooperate with U.S. authorities seeking the return of businessman Tongsun Park for questioning about his gifts of cash and parties to some members of Congress.
The New Democratic Party also urged that the Korean National Assembly conduct its own independent investigation of the allegations.