In an era when politicians accuse each other of spending millions of dollars to deceive voters, one has actually been indicted for lying.
A Marion County, Ore., grand jury indicted freshman Rep. Wes S. Cooley (R-Ore.) on charges he lied about his military service in official state voter guides.
Cooley, 64, dropped his bid for a second House term in early August after questions were raised about his claim that he had served in the Army Special Forces in Korea and whether he concealed his marriage so his wife could collect benefits as the widow of a Marine.
Cooley, who has denied doing anything wrong, did not return telephone calls yesterday. He is to be arraigned Monday. He runs a ranch and nutritional supplement company near Bend, Ore.
The indictment, which the Oregon attorney general's office made public yesterday, cites two official voter guides, one for the 1994 GOP primary and one for the 1994 general election, in which Cooley claimed to have been a member of the Army Special Forces in Korea during the Korean War. Earlier this year, an Oregon newspaper reported Cooley did not finish training at Fort Bragg, N.C., until Aug. 19, 1953, almost a month after the war ended.
Cooley has said records that would prove his claim had been destroyed in a fire.
Oregon law requires that candidates provide certain personal information for voter guides. To knowingly provide false information is a felony. If Cooley is convicted of both counts, he faces a prison sentence of as long as 10 years and up to $200,000 in fines.
The last time someone was prosecuted under the law was 1985, when a state legislator was accused of lying about his education in a voter guide, according to attorney general's spokeswoman Marla Rae. The lawmaker was censured and recalled by voters but acquitted in court.
Meanwhile, another federal grand jury is investigating whether Cooley and his wife, the widow of a Marine Corps captain, lied about their marriage so she could continue to collect veterans' benefits.
The county grand jury that indicted Cooley heard testimony from Cooley's Army colleagues, his former wife and election officials. One of the witnesses, former Master Sgt. Clifford Poppy, told reporters Cooley had lied about serving in Korea. "He's told that lie so many times, he believes it himself," Poppy told reporters. "If he had ever really served in combat, he wouldn't be bragging about it, because it is not a pleasant experience."
Cooley has had trouble with the truth before in his political career, which dates only to 1992.
In his 1994 campaign, he backtracked on claims that he belonged to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society in the college. Cooley said he confused that organization with Alpha Gamma Sigma, an honorary fraternity he belonged to at El Camino Community College in California. "It was not my intent to mislead anyone," he said at the time. "I honestly believed the honorary was Phi Beta Kappa."
Earlier this year, Cooley took seriously an April Fool's Day story in Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, that disgraced former House speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) would head a new ethics office if Democrats regained control of the House.
Cooley brandished a copy of the story in a speech to a forestry trade group as a reason why voters should not give Democrats a majority in the House.
When a reporter tried to ask him about the incident just off the House floor, Cooley told her: "The only thing between you and me is jail. . . . The only thing that is keeping you from getting your nose busted is that you are a lady."
Cooley later issued a statement saying he "inadvertently lost my temper at" the reporter, who was six months pregnant.
GOP leaders pressed Cooley, an outspoken conservative, to drop his reelection bid.
Lured by the promise from House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) that he would have his seniority restored and become chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, former representative Bob Smith (R), whom Cooley had replaced, came out of retirement to take Cooley's place on the ballot and was elected by a wide margin in the solidly Republican district. CAPTION: Rep. Wes S. Cooley (R-Ore.) dropped his bid for second term in August.