Former House Speaker Carl Albert said yesterday that a high U.S. government official warned him after a trip to South Korea in 1971 that one of his aides, Suzi Park Thomson, was "on the payroll of the Korean government."
Albert said he decided not to fire the Korean-born assistant because she signed an affidavit denying the charge, and a check of FBI files he requested turned up nothing to support it.
"The official told me they had information from the CIA that Suzi was on the payroll of the Korean government," Albert acknowledged in a phone interview from his office in McAlester, Okla.
"I asked him, 'Should I fire her?' And he said, 'Well, not if she doesn't deal with confidential matters,'" Albert said.
"I was at a loss for what to do. I called her in and she denied it emphatically. I had her sign an affidavit. And I had the FBI check the files. There was nothing.
"It would have destroyed her to fire her under those circumstances," he said. "It wouldn't have been fair."
Albert declined to identify the official who told him about the Central Intelligence Agency report on Thomson except to say it was a "high and responsible" executive bracnh official.
One well-placed source has told The Washington Post, however, that former Attorney General John N. mitchell had told others that the Justice Department had tired to get Albert to remove Thomson from his saff.
Thomson said in a brief phone conversation last night that she could not recall signing the affidavit Albert mentioned. "If I signed something I really don't know," she said, "Maybe he has a better memory than I do."
Thomson then in her early 40s, served as a personal assistant to Albert starting in 1971, when he became House Speaker at the age of 62. She accompanied him on a congressional trip to Seoul that year. She also accompanied Albert to social events around Washington.
She was also known as Capitol Hill for the parties she gave for members. In recent testimony at House hearings, witnesses said the South Korean embassy supplied liquor for some of the parties.
Thomson consistently has denied she ever did anything for the Korean government.
Albert's comments yesterday are believed to be his first extensive public discussion of the long-running Korean influence-buying investigations since his name was first connected to it.
Earlier in the day he released a four-page statement saying he had tice Department and House of Representatives inquiries of the matter.
The Washington Post reported last week that Albert had removed documents relating to his foreign travels University of Oklahoma shortly before a House subpoena was served on the University.
In the statement yesterday, Albert said it was "absolutely untrue" that he or any member of his staff tried to "withdraw or withhold or conceal or destroy any of my records."
He explained that he withdrew one file in mid-October -- before the House subpoena -- to look for a letter from South Korean President Park Chung Hee which a federal grand jury had asked him about.
Albert said he appeared before the grand jury in September voluntarily to answer questions about former Rep. Richard T. Hanna (D-Calif.), who has been indicted on charges of conspiracy, bribery, mail fraud and failing to register as a foreign agent for his alleged role in the Korean lobbying campaign.
Albert said he was told before the grand jury appearance that he was not a target of the investigation.
In early November, Albert said he received a letter from Leon Jaworski, special counsel to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, asking for voluminous documentation of his contacts with Koreans.
The committee was informed immediately that he would search his files to comply with the request, he said.
He said in the later phone interview that he could not explain why the committee went on to subpoena the university for production of the documents.
Albert said that he hadn't responded to reporters' inquiries about the committee subpoena last week because "I was overwhelmed with phone calls . . . I thought the best thing to do was get up a chronological summary of the events."
In the wide-ranging phone interview, Albert touched on his other contacts with and a shower of gifts from Korean officials in the years since his first visit to Seoul in 1969 when he was House majority leader.
He repeated earlier terse statements that he'd never been offered any money. He said he did not even know Korean businessman Tongsun Park, who also has been indicted on charges of bribing congressmen.
Albert said he knew then-Korean Ambassador Kim Dong Jo - who's also been identified as having given cash to House members - but was never offered anything of value by him.
"Ever since that trin, every Korean congressman who came through Washington wanted to come by my office," he said. "They'd leave a little old set of cufflinks. But I think everyone felt that to offer me a cash contribution would have been almost like offering it to the President of the United States. I felt they respected me."
Albert noted that on his first trip to korea "they followed me around with a camera and showed movies of me on television and in the theaters, too, I understand."
Alber said that he wasn't even aware of soem gifts the Korean officials had given him until long after his trips. He said he "didn't know there was any requirement" for turning valuable foreign gifts over to the U.S. government.
The House committee is known to be interested in asking Albert about the nine gifts, valued at more than $6,000, which he turned over when he retired last year.
One was a gold and jeweled crown valued at $3,000. "I saved this big gold thing in a safe over in the Rayburn building," he said, and then turned it over when he retired.