A Double Grilling For Whitman's Brother

Posted: November 25, 1993

NEWARK, N.J. — Webster "Dan" Todd Jr., brother of Gov.-elect Christie Whitman, was grilled yesterday by federal law enforcement officials and lawyers for the Democratic Party about charges that Republicans sought to suppress the black vote on Election Day.

Todd testified for about 3 1/2 hours before a federal grand jury on the controversy, triggered Nov. 9 when Republican consultant Ed Rollins told reporters that the Whitman campaign paid off black ministers and Democratic workers to keep minority voter turnout down.

"He answered everyone's questions. His appearance was voluntary, as you all know, and it was under oath," said Todd's attorney, Ed Fitzpatrick, as he and Todd left the federal building here.

Fitzpatrick and the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, Michael Chertoff, declined to discuss Todd's testimony.

After lunch, Todd was questioned by lawyers for the state Democratic Party as part of a suit filed by the Democrats to overturn the results of the Nov. 2 election. In its lawsuit, the state Democratic Committee charged that Republicans ran a racially discriminatory campaign by seeking to discourage minority voters from getting to the polls.

Carl Golden, spokesman for the campaign who also appeared before the grand jury, said that he answered questions for about an hour. "The entire story is a fabrication," he said of Rollins' statements. "I don't know how much longer we have to keep saying that."

Both the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark and the New Jersey Attorney General's Office are conducting criminal investigations.

Rollins boasted at a Nov. 9 breakfast with reporters in Washington that the Whitman campaign had made payments to the favorite charities of black ministers in exchange for a promise to refrain from exhorting their congregations to vote.

Rollins, who recanted the following day, also said that the campaign had paid Democratic Party workers to stay home on Election Day rather than work for Whitman's opponent, Gov. Florio.

Todd, who was a senior official in the campaign, said shortly after the election that Republicans had sought to keep voter turnout light in urban areas as part of their election strategy, but he offered no details.

Golden also spoke publicly about efforts by the campaign to keep turnout light in urban areas.

Rollins testified under oath last week that he was lying when he told reporters that the campaign had spent $500,000 on Democratic Party workers and black ministers. He said he was simply trying to goad his arch-rival, James Carville, the Democratic strategist who worked for the Florio campaign.

But he also confirmed some key details of his earlier remarks. The Whitman campaign, he said, did reach out to black ministers. And he said that he once suggested to Lonna Hooks, the campaign's liaison to the African American community, that they make contributions to black ministers' charities.

Hooks has denied that the conversation ever took place or that the campaign ever tried to give money to African American churches.

Jay Kahle, a spokesman for Shearing-Plough Corp., where Hooks is employed, said Hooks is scheduled to be interviewed by federal and state investigators next week.

State and federal prosecutors are looking into whether Republican activities violated New Jersey statutes that make it illegal for a person to pay someone else to discourage voters from going to the polls.

Whitman won the race against Florio by 26,600 votes, the second-smallest margin for a governor's race in New Jersey history.

Rollins' remarks triggered outrage among black ministers, who have filed suit against him alleging that the remarks slandered the black church.

So far, no black minister or Democratic Party workers have come forward to say they accepted money from Republicans. Nor has anyone said they were approached.

After Democratic Party lawyers began taking Todd's deposition yesterday afternoon, Raymond J. Lesniak, state Democratic chairman, told reporters that that testimony probably would be completed tomorrow.

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