WASHINGTON — Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) was harshly reprimanded by the Senate Ethics Committee on Wednesday for "improper and repugnant" behavior in his relationship with former savings and loan owner Charles H. Keating Jr.
But, showing little remorse, Cranston declared that most senators do exactly what he did.
During a somber, two-hour session in the Senate chamber, Cranston, 77, listened to a detailed explanation of offenses that were uncovered by Ethics Committee investigators during a two-year inquiry into his relationship with Keating, who headed the now-failed Lincoln Savings & Loan Assn.
Reading directly from the complaint, Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.) said the panel found "clear and convincing evidence that, based upon the totality of the circumstances, Sen. Cranston engaged in an impermissible pattern of conduct."
Acknowledging that Cranston had broken no law and no specific Senate rule, Heflin--who headed the ethics panel during most of its investigation of Cranston--cited four instances considered by the committee to be improper "linkage" between Cranston's solicitation of contributions from Keating and his inquiries with federal regulators on behalf of Lincoln Savings.
For the Senate, which endured a barrage of criticism for its handling of the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas earlier this fall, the reprimand of Cranston was a way of demonstrating to critics that Congress does not wink at misconduct--even within its own ranks.
Throughout Heflin's speech, Cranston sat impassively, with criminal-defense lawyer Alan M. Dershowitz occasionally whispering legal advice in his ear. The experience was obviously a painful one for the onetime presidential candidate and former assistant majority leader.
Cranston then rose in his own defense. Although apologizing for his behavior and agreeing to accept the reprimand, he made it clear that he disagrees strongly with the committee's findings that his behavior was a radical departure from the Senate norm.
"How many of you," he asked, "after really thinking about it, could rise and declare you've never, ever helped--or agreed to help--a contributor close in time to a solicitation or receipt of a contribution? I don't believe any of you could say never."
Then Cranston stunned his colleagues by saying that he--with Dershowitz's help--had investigated the conduct of other senators and had found many examples of similar behavior on their part. He did not name any of the senators to whom he referred and he flatly refused later to identify them.
Cranston's defense of himself was so strident that Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), vice chairman of the Ethics Committee, immediately jumped to his feet and condemned the senator's speech as "arrogant, unrepentant and a smear on this institution."
"Everybody doesn't do it," Rudman insisted.
Afterward, several Republican senators charged that Cranston's statements violated the spirit of an agreement under which the Ethics Committee had said it would not call for a full Senate vote on the censure if he accepted the reprimand. Some senators even threatened to move for a vote condemning Cranston in the near future.
The floor proceedings culminated an intensive investigation of a complaint brought more than two years ago by citizens' lobby Common Cause. It alleged that Cranston and four other senators--Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), Donald W. Riegle Jr. (D-Mich.), John Glenn (D-Ohio) and John McCain (R-Ariz.)--had acted improperly by accepting contributions from Keating while interfering in a Federal Home Loan Bank Board investigation of Lincoln Savings.
Last February, after months of public hearings, the committee dropped its investigation of the other four senators. DeConcini and Riegle were severely chastised; Glenn and McCain received only mild criticism.
But Cranston's behavior was viewed as much more egregious by the committee members. They emphasized in their final report that they would have recommended censure for the California senator had he not already announced plans to retire at the end of 1992 and had he not been under treatment for prostate cancer.
During months of behind-the-scenes negotiations with the committee, Cranston even authorized his physician to detail his condition for Heflin and Rudman in an effort to persuade them to drop the case. "May none of you ever have to battle cancer and something like this at the same time in your lives," he told the Senate.
But Cranston used an even more powerful bargaining chip in months of talks with the committee. In his floor speech, he confirmed previous reports that he had threatened to implicate other senators in wrongdoing if the panel sought to censure him.
"I was prepared, on the advice of Prof. Dershowitz, to demonstrate to the Senate and to the nation, through example after example of comparable conduct, that my behavior did not violate established norms," he said.