An article yesterday misstated the outcome of a House ethics committee investigation into charges that Rep. Gus Savage (D-Ill.) made improper sexual advances to a female Peace Corps volunteer during an official trip to Africa. The committee found that Savage had made "improper advances" and declared that it "clearly disapproves" of his conduct, but said it did not send him a letter of admonishment because Savage had voluntarily written the woman a letter of apology. (Published 6/21/90)
After weeks of deadlock, the House ethics committee is preparing to override the objections of Republicans who favor a stronger punishment and issue only a mild rebuke to Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) for his relationship with a male prostitute, according to two members of the panel.
As many as three Republicans on the committee could vote against the decision to send Frank a letter reproving his conduct when the panel meets next Tuesday, according to the lawmakers, who asked not to be identified. That would represent a break with tradition on the 12-member panel that is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans and whose members prefer to make their decisions unanimously. However, only a majority vote is necessary for rulings in ethics cases.
The ethics committee's ranking Republican, Rep. John T. Myers (Ind.), has been the most vigorous in pushing for a harsher sanction and is expected to vote against a letter of reproval, one of the mildest sanctions available to the panel. The sources said Myers could be joined by Reps. Thomas E. Petri (R-Wis.) and Fred Grandy (R-Iowa).
While the sources said a committee vote was likely Tuesday, they did not rule out possible further delays in completing a case that already has been delayed for several weeks by the insistence of some panel members that Frank receive a more severe punishment. Led by Myers, those members had been holding out for a recommendation that Frank be reprimanded, a penalty that would require a vote by the full House.
But after several weeks of deadlock, said one committee member, "the fight is out of the other guys" who now appear willing to end the case with the milder sanction.
The committee's action would not necessarily end the Frank ethics case in the House. Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Calif.) has said he will attempt to force the House to vote on a resolution to expel Frank.
Frank's 18-month relationship with the former male prostitute, Stephen L. Gobie, was disclosed last August by the Washington Times. Following the disclosure, Frank, who is homosexual, conceded that he had hired Gobie as a personal aide and driver, paying him with his own funds. Frank said at the time that he had only a brief sexual relationship with Gobie, and had hired him as a personal aide in an attempt to lead him out of a life of prostitution.
Frank repeatedly has insisted that he fired Gobie upon learning that Gobie was using Frank's Capitol Hill apartment for prostitution. Frank has denied a charge by Gobie and a former female prostitute that he approved the use of his apartment for prostitution.
The ethics committee is expected to admonish Frank by letter for two issues related to his relationship with Gobie and his official position as a member of Congress. Those involve Frank fixing traffic tickets received by Gobie and writing letters on his congressional letterhead to court officials supervising Gobie's probation on several 1982 felony convictions.
During its early stages, the nearly year-long ethics investigation appeared to threaten the political career of one of the House's most prominent and outspoken liberals. With the Boston Globe calling for Frank's resignation last fall, even some of his allies in the House predicted he probably would not survive.
But Frank has gradually rebounded from the initial political damage and appears headed for reelection in the fall.
However, Democrats still fear that Republican political operatives may make the Frank case and how Democrats vote on Dannemeyer's expulsion resolution an issue in some House races this fall. Those Democrats anticipate the Frank case could become part of a broad-based GOP assault on values issues that will include such items as restricting federal arts grants and the drive for a constitutional amendment to ban flag desecration.
A decision to admonish Frank by letter rather than seek a harsher penalty would be consistent with two other recent cases settled by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct that involved allegations of sexual impropriety. The committee sent letters of reproval to Rep. Jim Bates (D-Calif.) for sexual harassment of some of his congressional staff members and to Rep. Gus Savage (D-Ill.) for making aggressive sexual advances to a Peace Corps volunteer in Zaire.