Rep. Frank Subdued, Repentant in Eye of Disciplinary Hurricane With AM-Frank-Ethics, BjtJILL LAWRENCE , Associated Press
Jul. 26, 1990 5:46 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AP) _ His friends surrounded Barney Frank like a shield as the assault began, filling the seats near him and rotating quickly into vacant spots on their mission of comfort and protection.
Thursday's proceedings against him started with an unusual admonition from the chair to avoid abusive language. But the accusations that followed were anything but gentle.
Then, toward the end when he knew he would not be expelled, there was Frank himself - a subdued, somber, self-deprecating version of himself - apologizing and trying to explain.
''I have a reputation for honesty,'' he said. ''Not always tact or tolerance, but honesty.'' The exception was what he called ''one central element of dishonesty'' that lasted for 40 years - the secret that he was homosexual.
''Three years ago I decided that concealment didn't work. I wish I had decided that a few years earlier,'' the Massachusetts Democrat said.
Frank avoided not only expulsion but censure, which would have stripped him of his seniority, and ended up with a reprimand in connection with favors he did for Steven Gobie, a male prostitute.
The vote was overwhelming - but it came after a vitriolic debate in which angry members shouted directly at each other and Frank was held up as an example of the decline of American values.
''Are there standards in our society that we will affirm for ourselves and our children?'' demanded Rep. William Dannemeyer, the California Republican who tried to get Frank expelled.
''What will we accept next?'' asked Rep. Clyde Holloway, R-La.
A high school principal, a broadcaster, a university president, a business leader - all would be fired or ruined in a case like this one - ''Finis. Finished. Done,'' shouted Rep. Bob Dornan, R-Calif. ''Out the door, Barney.''
''Garbage,'' responded Rep. Julian Dixon, the California Democrat who heads the ethics panel that recommended a reprimand.
He called Dannemeyer and his presentation mean, selective, unfair. He reproached him like a naughty schoolchild. ''Follow along, Mr. Dannemeyer, on page 49 of the report. ... Look at it, Mr. Dannemeyer, it's on page 49. Page 49, Mr. Dannemeyer, take a look at it 3/8'' the normally mild-mannered Dixon said sharply.
Frank is regarded as an able and articulate legislator, and many colleagues approached him to shake hands or pat him on the shoulder. But few rose to defend him during the debate.
One who did, Rep. Tom Foglietta, D-Pa., called him a friend and ''a voice for a better world.'' And Rep. Vic Fazio, D-Calif., reminded his colleagues that ''we're real people here, not demigods. We have all the foibles of the people who elected us.''
It was the second day of high emotion on Capitol Hill, where the Senate voted 96-0 Wednesday to denounce Republican Sen. Dave Durenberger of Minnesota for financial misconduct.
Like Durenberger before him, a repentant Frank said he had reformed - mostly as a result of his decision to go public about his sexuality. ''Everything I did that was deceptive was done to conceal the fact that I was gay,'' he said.
''I think I'm a better judge of character now,'' Frank said later at a press briefing. ''I had a sufficiently low view of my capacities in my private life so that I was more prone to do dumb things. ... There's still a disparity between my private and public estimates of myself, but the gap has closed.''
Those painful truths were about as much as Frank would reveal.
A reporter said he was curious about Frank's emotions during the Dannemeyer presentation.
''And you will remain so,'' the congressman said tersely, bouncing back to his normal feistiness.