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web posted February 21, 2000

Former Baucus aide won't pursue sexual harassment claim against senator

The former chief of staff for Sen. Max Baucus has abandoned her legal claim that the Montana Democrat sexually harassed her and then fired her last year for turning down his advances.

Christine Niedermeier, 48, said on February 11 she could not afford the emotional and financial toll that a federal lawsuit would take.

"I now intend, to the extent possible, to put this extremely painful experience behind me and move on with my life and my public service career," she said.

Baucus, who has strongly denied Niedermeier's allegations and dared her to take him to court, reiterated that stand in a written statement.

"From the beginning, I made it clear that my former chief of staff's accusations were completely false and that I would never settle for anything less than the truth," he said. "I never harassed her or retaliated against her. These are the facts and that's the truth.

In September, Niedermeier claimed that Baucus, 58 and married, had made repeated sexual advances toward her during the 15 months she was his top aide. She said Baucus fired her in August for rebuffing those overtures.

Baucus said he fired her because he faced a revolt by staffers over what they described as Niedermeier's tyrannical management style.

Niedermeier submitted her claims to the Office of Compliance, an independent agency in the legislative branch charged with trying to resolve fights between congressional workers and their bosses.

After mediation efforts failed, Niedermeier had 90 days in which to file a formal complaint with the administrative office or file a civil suit against Baucus in federal court. That deadline was Feb. 7.

Niedermeier said she could not afford the prospect of a federal trial lasting two or three years. She said she already is deeply in debt because of legal bills incurred in taking her claims to the congressional office.

"I decided I would rather spend the next few years of my life in public service and enjoying the fraternity of family and friends than in a protracted and bitter lawsuit which would be financially and emotionally draining," she said.

Baucus's attorney, Jean Manning, dismissed Niedermeier's suggestion that money was part of the reason for her dropping her case. She could have filed an administrative complaint and taken advantage of that free process in seeking a judgment, Manning said.

Canadian pension, EI excess close to $1 billion

Tax returns filed for money earned in 1998 showed Canadians overpaid contributions to the Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance by close to a billion dollars.

While employees got this money back - without interest - employers did not. And the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says the overpayments made by its members were even greater in 1999.

According to documents obtained by the Hamilton Spectator under federal Access to Information laws, the 1998 returns showed employees had overpaid CPP contributions by $268,760,323 and EI contributions by $157,595,779.

Employers matched the CPP contributions directly and paid 140 per cent of the EI contributions, for a combined total of $489,394,462.

That means the excess paid by employees and employers into both programs amounted to $915,750,564.

Most of the overpayment occurred when employees switched companies part-way through the year after having paid the required maximum amount into the two plans. Other large amounts were handed over when a company changed hands during the summer or fall after most of its workers had paid up.

When asked if employers can ever expect to recoup the overpayment, Gary Donegan the senior program officer for CPP program direction at Revenue Canada, said: "Nope."

Some say that excess money could be used to expand businesses or hire additional staff. And shouldn't those employers be entitled to recoup that cash?

"In a perfect world, yes," said Donegan. "It is certainly something that employers are continually bringing to the attention of Revenue Canada and the Department of Finance and it's not something that they are letting die because, as you can see, $256 million (the amount employers overpaid in CPP premiums in 1998) is a lot of dough."

But there is a logistical problem with returning the money, he said.

"You (might) get one employee working for four employers, so presumably all four could have overpaid." Who gets the refund?

Garth Whyte of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business said his members have said, unequivocally, that the money is theirs and they want it back. Prompted by a call from The Spectator last summer, the federation sent out a questionnaire to 1,200 Canadian businesses.

"Eight-seven per cent said the government should give that money back. Eight per cent said no. Only one per cent were not interested in the issue," said Whyte.

Bauer endorses McCain for president

Former GOP hopeful Gary Bauer endorsed Arizona Sen. John McCain's presidential bid on February 16, giving McCain a potential boost just days before the South Carolina Republican primary.

Joining McCain on stage at South Carolina's Furman University, Bauer said the Arizona senator "is the best shot we have to end the era of Bill and Hillary and Al Gore. And so with great pride and without any hesitation, I am pleased to be here today to endorse John McCain in exchange for his promise that I'll have a front-row seat at his inaugural."

"Gary Bauer has done great things," McCain said. "I want to promise you again, you may agree with me, you may disagree with me, but I will do great things."

McCain said that Bauer had served as a role model for his own campaign, and called Bauer's decision one that took "tremendous political courage."

Bauer, who was a presidential candidate until dropping out after his poor showing in the New Hampshire primary, flew from Washington to South Carolina to endorse McCain.

Bauer declined to endorse any of his former opponents when he dropped out of the race on February 4, saying McCain and Texas Gov. George W. Bush would have to move closer to his own conservative stance on a number of issues before he would extend support to either of them.

Among the issues central to Bauer were his strong opposition to abortion; his concerns about trade ties with China; and his overarching pro-family themes.

"I'm not going to endorse anybody until I see one of these candidates move toward the issues that I've outlined..." Bauer said during his withdrawal speech. "Almost all of my competitors suggest that they too stand for these ideas, but as I've pointed out in the debates, the devil is in the details."

At the time, Bauer credited distant third-place GOP hopeful Alan Keyes for closely matching his own position on abortion.

The longtime activist and president of Washington's Family Research Council chose to withdraw from the 2000 Republican presidential race after posting poor showings in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.

He earned 1 percent of the New Hampshire primary vote, a week after gaining only 8 percent In Iowa.

Parties reach agreement on recreating conditions of Waco siege

Six gunmen armed with pistols and submachine guns will dart from post to post, firing their weapons in detailed sequence. Grenades will be launched overhead and an advancing tank will crush glass and aluminum siding.

Those were the elements approved on February 16 as part of a court-ordered re-creation designed to put to rest questions about the role of federal agents at the Branch Davidian compound on the last day of the April 1993 siege near Waco, Texas.

The re-creation, tentatively scheduled for March 18 or 19 at Fort Hood, Texas, will be recorded on special infrared cameras attached to aircraft flown by British pilots and the Air Force. A variety of weapons are expected to be used, and debris -- glass, water and aluminum -- could help determine whether they could have caused the flashes picked up by the FBI's infrared cameras.

The government and lawyers made public details of the re-creation after meeting for more than five hours behind closed doors at the St. Louis office of Special Counsel John Danforth.

However, it remained uncertain whether the news media would be allowed to witness the event.

The decision to open the re-creation rests with U.S. District Judge Walter Smith of Waco, who is presiding over a wrongful death lawsuit by Branch Davidians against the government.

Lawyers Michael Caddell and Jim Brannon, who represent surviving Branch Davidians and their families, and Texas U.S. Attorney Mike Bradford said they believed the media should be present. Danforth apparently objected.

Danforth and his chief of staff declined to comment after the meeting.

After the test, a court-appointed expert will verify whether the conditions of the test were satisfactorily met. The original tapes will then be left with the court.

The parties hope the test will determine what caused more than 100 flashes to show up on an infrared tape the FBI filmed of the siege. They plan to compare that tape with aerial surveillance footage from Fort Hood.

The government has long insisted that none of its agents fired their weapons. But the Branch Davidian plaintiffs, backed by infrared experts, contend the bursts of light on the FBI tape can be nothing but gunfire.

Davidian leader David Koresh and some 80 followers died in the final hours of the 51-day standoff, some in the fire that engulfed the compound, others from gunshot wounds. The government insists the Davidians perished by their own hands.

Pentagon won't suspend anthrax vaccinations

The Pentagon said February 17 it has no plans to suspend its anthrax vaccination program, despite a House panel recommendation that it be halted.

In a report sharply critical of the Defense Department, the House panel called for suspension of a program to inoculate all 2.4 million military personnel against anthrax, a potential biological warfare weapon.

The report from the House Government Reform national security subcommittee said the anthrax vaccine should be considered experimental because its effectiveness is uncertain and the safety of troops taking the anthrax shots is not being monitored adequately.

"At best, the vaccine provides some measure of protection to most who receive it," the panel concluded. But the panel's chairman, Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut, said the program is "built on a dangerously narrow scientific and medical foundation."

The Defense Department and the Food and Drug Administration have said repeatedly that they believe the vaccine is safe and effective.

"We're not going to halt the program," a Pentagon spokesman said. "We plan no changes."

The spokesman said the critical report "doesn't reflect what we've testified to before Congress," adding that the Defense Department "takes issue" with some of the findings.

The Pentagon welcomes a "vigorous and open debate" on the issue, the spokesman said.

Shays said that while the Pentagon acted with good intentions, it made a "gigantic mistake" by using outdated medical techniques requiring six shots over an 18-month period to be effective.

"Our military, rightfully so, has identified the fact that there are at least 10 governments that have weaponized anthrax," Shays said at a Washington news conference. "The problem is, we believe that the military has acted too quickly and has not done what is necessary and that is to develop" a more modern drug.

The 10 governments referred to are China, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Libya, North Korea, South Korea, Syria, Taiwan and Russia.

Shays suggested the military's mandatory anthrax protection program be voluntary and that the vaccine be reclassified as an investigational drug requiring more research. The FDA has said there is no reason for doing that.

The 80-page report was written by the subcommittee's Republican majority after five hearings on the immunization program.

The vaccine has come under increasing scrutiny from lawmakers as soldiers have expressed concerns about taking the anthrax vaccination regimen.

Complaints included fevers, muscle pain and dizziness. reserve and National Guard pilots testified that morale was plummeting and colleagues would resign rather than take the vaccine.

The report said the vaccination program should be suspended because some troops do not trust medical information provided by a Defense Department that it said engaged in "heavy-handed propaganda" and had labeled critics as paranoid rather than answering their questions.

Instead of encouraging reporting of adverse reactions, the lawmakers said, the military may have underreported problems with shots due to an "institutional culture that is hostile, even resistant, to reports."

More than 380,000 service members have been immunized so far.

About 200 to 300 have refused the vaccine because of concerns about its safety and efficacy, Pentagon officials say.

In a compromise announced Wednesday, the Air Force said it won't court-martial a major who questioned the safety of the vaccine and refused the mandatory injections.

The vaccination was ordered for all active duty and reserve troops in 1998

INS official arrested on Cuban espionage charge

The FBI has arrested a high-ranking Miami-based immigration official for allegedly spying for the Cuban government, the agency said.

Mariano Faget, 54, was being held at the Federal Detention Center in Miami after his arrest on February 17, by agents representing the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Office of Inspector General.

Faget, a supervisory district adjudication officer, holds a "secret" security clearance at the agency, according to the FBI. He was responsible for supervising naturalization decisions, including the adjustment to permanent residence status of refugees and political asylees.

Faget had access to classified and sensitive INS files relating to confidential law- enforcement sources and Cuban defectors, the FBI statement said.

"Through sophisticated technical and physical surveillance techniques, the investigation revealed Faget making unauthorized contacts with Cuban intelligence officers in Miami and other cities in the United States," the FBI statement said.

Russ Bergeron, director of media relations at INS headquarters in Washington D.C., declined to talk about Faget's arrest. He said it is INS policy to cooperate with such investigations.

Jose Basulto, president of the Cuban exile group Brothers to the Rescue, said "The U.S. should be very embarrassed by this finding. ... I guess we're looking at this from the surface."

In October 1998, 14 people were charged in Florida in what authorities called the largest Cuban espionage ring uncovered in the United States in decades. Authorities said the group tried to penetrate U.S. military bases, infiltrate anti-Castro exile groups and manipulate U.S. media and political organizations.

Fernando Rojas, a spokesman for the Cuban American National Foundation, said he thought Faget's arrest proves what many Cuban exiles already believe -- that Cuba has exerted its power in the United States for some time.

"This could just be the tip of the iceberg. There could be more just like this," he said.

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