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SCANDAL WAS HANSEN'S TOUGHEST PROBE

He worked on the Abscam bribery case, on dozens of sex scandals and even the financial scandal that toppled former House Speaker Jim Wright.

"But in all my 12 years on the House ethics committee, I don't know of any assignment that's been more difficult than the House Bank investigation," says Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah."That's because John Q. Citizen knows exactly what it means to bounce a check. It's something he can identify with and get upset about."

He added that the new scandal - where House members as a perk ran their own bank that covered overdrafts worth thousands of dollars without penalty or interest - affects most members of Congress, since more than 200 bounced at least one check.

"It isn't just some lone member of Congress whom the rest of us feel sorry for," he said. "It worries everyone. Other members are asking, `Is it going to be me? Am I ruined? Is my career going to be over? . . . The political ramifications of this are awesome."

To complicate matters, the HouseBank routinely did not notify members about bounced checks except in the most egregious cases - which makes members worry they may have bounced some unwittingly, and their political opponents could bury them with it.

Hansen, however, said, "I'm tired of them coming up to me on the floor and saying, `They didn't tell me.' Didn't they ever learn how to add and subtract themselves?"

Although Hansen never bounced any checks himself, he said the whole scandal could hurt him, other members of the committee and the whole House if the public thinks they are not tough enough on those who abused banking privileges. "No matter what we do, I think the public is going to cream us," he said.

Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, like Hansen, said he never bounced a check at the House bank. However, Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, has said he knows he bounced "four or five," but it could be more because the bank did not notify members when it happened.

-Lee Davidson