Joseph A. Califano Jr., the House Ethics Committee's special counsel investigating allegations of sexual misconduct and illicit drug use on Capitol Hill, said yesterday he has found "no merit whatsoever" in charges made by two former congressional pages about their purported homosexual relations with congressmen or solicitations from them.
"Those allegations resulted either from out-and-out fabrication, overactive teen-age imagination stimulated by conversations with a journalist, or teen-age gossip, which has in virtually every case proved to be utterly inaccurate," Califano said.
At the same time, Califano said he and his staff are continuing to investigate allegations of a handful of other instances of possible sexual misconduct involving pages, as well as charges of illegal use or distribution of drugs on Capitol Hill.
But Califano, a former Cabinet member and veteran Washington lawyer, declined to say specifically whether the ongoing drug probe is focusing on any congressmen. "We have no idea whether there's any substance" to the remaining allegations, he told a crowded Capitol Hill press conference.
However, the House Ethics Committee, based on Califano's recommendation, voted unanimously yesterday to start preliminary inquiries by the committee into the activities of two House employes, one with respect to sexual misconduct charges and one with regard to allegations of illicit use and distribution of drugs. Califano declined to identify the two individuals, although Rep. Louis Stokes (D-Ohio), the Chairman of the House Ethics panel, said both employes are still on the House payroll and are working at their jobs.
Califano's finding that there was no substance to the pages' allegations of homosexual liaisons with congressmen or overtures from the lawmakers was not unexpected. One of the former pages, Leroy Williams, publicly recanted his allegations last summer, and the Justice Department later ended its criminal investigation of the allegations when investigators could not corroborate the charges.
Califano and his team of probers, who began their work last July, spent about $400,000 disproving the same set of allegations, and gathering other information.
In an extraordinarily detailed 136-page report to the Ethics Committee, Califano said he found "no merit whatsoever in any of the original allegations of sexual misconduct made by the two former pages.
"One of these pages [Williams] testified under oath that he lied about having sexual relations with members of the House and about procuring prostitutes for anyone," Califano said in the report. "The other page [Jeffrey Opp], who had referred to homosexual approaches by congressmen, testified under oath about three isolated instances of conversations in public places that lasted less than two minutes and involved no improper actions. "
This page testified that he himself no longer believed, in at least two of these instances, that there were any sexual overtones," according to the report.
Califano said he had "independently investigated these allegations and has determined that the evidence conclusively indicates that all charges of sexual misconduct made by these two pages were false."
While concluding there was no truth in the former pages' allegations, Califano, as others have done in the past, sharply condemned various aspects of the congressional page system, in which the lawmakers sponsor the hiring of teen-agers to run errands for them. He said that for the most part there is no after-hours supervision of the pages, many of whom are living away from home for the first time and faced with managing more money -- their $700-a-month paycheck -- than they have ever had.
"It is clear that during the 1981-82 academic year," Califano's report, said, "some pages behaved irresponsibly after working hours. There is abundant and convincing evidence, in the case of some pages, of excessive use of alcohol, all-night parties, some drug use, and a variety of other activities that no responsible parent would tolerate."
Califano said that Williams' departure from the page program last January, "when financial and other troubles became too much for him to handle," eventually triggered a Capitol Police investigation "of page drinking habits and parties," and of Williams' character. That investigation, and the dismissal of two other pages, spawned Hill rumors of a "page scandal," Califano's report said.
By last June, the report said, CBS News correspondent John Ferrugia interviewed both Williams and Opp. Ferrugia's interview "yielded lies from Williams," the report said, while Opp "twisted minor, at best ambiguous conversations with three congressmen and one lobbyist and characterized them as 'homosexual advances.'"
Califano declined to directly criticize CBS for broadcasting the report, but said that "in a free society, with an unfettered press and political process, there is a heavy responsibility to speak and report accurately rather than sensationally, to keep events in perspective."
Califano said he expects to finish the drug probe early next year.
The drug investigation stems from information that law enforcement officials collected after the arrests last April of two Washington area men. The two men, Douglas W. Marshall, 27, of Northwest Washington, and Troy M. Todd Jr., 23, of Potomac, were indicted last month on charges that they had conspired for nearly four years to possess and distribute cocaine, including distribution on Capitol(Illegible Word) The two suspects are now believed to be out of the country.