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Senate Veterans Committee Delays Derwinski Hearing

February 05, 1989|RONALD J. OSTROW | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has called off a hearing on President Bush's nomination of Edward J. Derwinski to be the nation's first secretary of veterans affairs, after new questions were raised about Derwinski's leaking sensitive intelligence to the South Korean Embassy.

A committee spokesman said Sens. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), the chairman, and Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska), ranking minority member, decided that the panel did not have adequate time to review all of the information before Monday's scheduled hearing.

Jonathan R. Steinberg, the committee's chief counsel, said there had been no decision on when to reschedule the hearing and declined comment on why it had been postponed.

Cites Written Questions

However, another source said that Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) told Cranston in a meeting Friday that he did not think written questions submitted by committee investigators, and answers given by Derwinski, which were to be released at the hearing, had resolved the matter. The hearing was then postponed.

Specter would say only, through a spokesman, that he had not finished reviewing the FBI's report on the episode.

At issue is a 1977 incident in which Derwinski, then a member of a House subcommittee investigating Korean influence peddling, including payoffs to congressmen, alerted Korean Embassy officials that Sohn Ho Young, a Korean CIA operative, was going to defect to the United States.

FBI agents rushed to the defector's house and took him off only half an hour before Korean intelligence officers arrived at the home. He later provided what House committee investigators said was valuable information and is now understood to be living under an assumed name after being a protected U.S. witness.

Derwinski initially denied tipping off the South Koreans, and a federal grand jury and the House ethics committee examined the matter.

Take No Action

However, a key piece of evidence was understood to involve electronic eavesdropping conducted by U.S. intelligence agents that picked up Derwinski's contact with the Koreans about the imminent defection. The grand jury and House committee took no action, with officials explaining that intelligence "sources and methods" could not be disclosed.

In 1983, after former President Ronald Reagan named Derwinski to the first of two State Department posts he has held, Derwinski admitted in Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings that he had warned the Koreans that a defection was taking place.

The hearings were not published, however, and received no press coverage. They were found in the archives after Bush picked Derwinski to be the veterans secretary, and seemed to raise the issue of the nominee's candor because of the change in his stories.

Derwinski could not be reached Saturday, but he told the Washington Post that he was certain the delay in his hearings "goes back to the Korean thing. That's 12 years. Nothing's happened since then. How many times do you go around that merry-go-round?"

ASSEMBLING BUSH'S CABINET Confirmed by Senate and sworn in:

Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan Jr.

Secretary of Commerce Robert A. Mosbacher.

Secretary of Labor Elizabeth Hanford Dole.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Jack Kemp.

Secretary of Transportation Samuel K. Skinner.

Director, Office of Management and Budget Richard G. Darman.

U.S. Trade Representative Carla Anderson Hills.

Reappointed from Reagan Cabinet, no Senate

confirmation needed:

Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas F. Brady.

Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh.

Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos.

Confirmation hearings completed, awaiting Senate vote:

Secretary of Agriculture nominee Clayton K. Yeutter.

Confirmation hearings under way:

Secretary of Defense nominee John Tower.

Awaiting hearings:

Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee Louis W. Sullivan; further FBI investigation proceeding.

Secretary of Energy nominee James D. Watkins; hearings expected later in February.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs nominee Edward J. Derwinski; hearings scheduled to begin Monday have been postponed.

Director, Drug Control Policy nominee William J. Bennett; hearings expected in March.

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