| ||Political Insider|
Torricelli Investigation on Verge of Ending?
By Charles Babington
Not long ago, New Jersey Republicans rubbed their hands at the thought of toppling Sen. Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.), the subject of a long-running federal investigation. Now the investigation shows signs of petering out, and the GOP is scrambling to find a big-name challenger to the increasingly confident senator's reelection bid.
It's still possible that the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan will try to indict Torricelli in connection with gifts he allegedly received from a businessman and political donor. But his lawyers and aides say they believe the Justice Department will turn to more pressing matters.
"The senator and his attorneys have every confidence that the investigation will end soon and favorably," Torricelli's office said in a statement this week.
The investigation of Torricelli, who won the Senate seat that Bill Bradley gave up in 1996, originally focused on his aggressive fundraising in that campaign. The emphasis later shifted to allegations that he accepted cash and lavish gifts from businessman David Chang, who Torricelli tried to help on international business matters.
While news accounts of the investigation caused political headaches for Torricelli, the probe began having its own problems. Increasingly, it seemed, U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White's case would stand or fall on testimony from Chang, who federal prosecutors had called untruthful. Then, in another case with heavy political overtones, White's office was stung by the October acquittal of former Teamsters president Ron Carey, who had been accused of lying about union political finance matters.
The latest potential setback to the Torricelli investigation came on Thursday, when White announced she would leave her job by the first of the year. Her office refused to comment on how her departure might affect the senator's case.
Even before White announced her resignation plans, people close to Torricelli quietly speculated that an indictment was unlikely. The 2002 reelection campaign is proceeding "full-steam ahead," one adviser said. "To say there's a bounce in our step is an understatement."
Meanwhile, New Jersey Republicans face other woes. Their gubernatorial nominee, Bret Schundler, lost badly this month to Democrat Jim McGreevey. Now the party seemed hard-pressed to recruit a top-tier challenger to Torricelli.
Party officials have wooed former governor Thomas H. Kean, a popular moderate who last ran for office 16 years ago. Kean, now president of Drew University, has expressed some interest. But Democrats say he has flirted with almost every possible race since leaving office, and they doubt he will run.
A recent article in the Bergen Record described Kean as "obviously happy as a clam at high tide where he is, doing what he does."
Ill. Gubernatorial Candidate Says Cancer Will Not Alter Campaign
The leading Republican contender for Illinois governor said this week he has cancer, adding that it's treatable and will not hamper his 2002 campaign.
Attorney General Jim Ryan said he has suffered a recurrence of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which also struck him in 1996 and 1999. "I feel 100 percent healthy and I'm grateful that my doctor is convinced that I can continue serving vigorously as attorney general and can continue without slowing down my campaign for governor," he told Illinois reporters.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Ryan will "undergo spot radiation treatments where the growth was removed, and he will receive a cancer-fighting medication called Rituxan. Both treatments should last about a month and not require hospitalization."
In recent polls, Ryan led other GOP hopefuls in the bid to succeed Gov. George Ryan (R), who is not seeking reelection. Possible Democratic candidates include former attorney general Roland Burris, U.S. Rep. Rod R. Blagojevich and former Chicago schools chief Paul Vallas.
Join Charles Babington for an online discussion of politics today, starting at 1 p.m.