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Romney touches D.C. bases

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WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney began a quest Wednesday to restore federal trust in the Salt Lake Organizing Committee by recruiting some allies -- both among friends and even one old foe.

The new head of SLOC made the rounds visiting Utah's members of Congress, coordinators from federal agencies who oversee aid for the 2002 Olympics and some acquaintances from when he ran for the Senate from Massachusetts.One was even Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who beat Romney in a hard-fought 1994 campaign.

"We're still friendly," Romney said -- even though Kennedy made religion an issue by calling on Romney to say whether as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints he agreed with its ban against women holding the priesthood.

"We've kept in contact. He called me at my home to congratulate me" when Romney accepted his SLOC post, he said. "He's delighted how things are proceeding. He agrees with me that the Games will be great, not only because of the good people of Utah but the spectacular mountains and scenery."

Romney said he also met with Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas. "He helped me when I ran for the Senate," he said. "You begin with your friends and build from there."

On this trip, Romney did not visit those in Congress who have ordered hearings on the bribery scandal or a U.S. General Accounting Office probe of whether Utah is receiving too much federal aid for Games it may have used bribery to obtain.

"There may come a time for that," he said. "But right now I am meeting with our friends to make sure we are all singing from the same page."

That included a meeting with members of a White House task force on the Olympics. President Clinton formed it to coordinate efforts from a variety of federal agencies to support the Olympics.

"It's amazing how many federal agencies are involved," Romney said -- noting they range from immigration and customs (to get athletes into the country) to the Department of Transportation (for buses and roads) and the Justice Department (for security).

Romney said the White House group is focused on practical matters of putting on the Olympics -- and not the politics and problems arising from the bribery scandal.

To those more connected with politics, Romney said he is explaining how SLOC is seeking to correct past problems and overcome the bribery scandal to still produce "what I expect to be the greatest Games ever."

"There was an enormous breach of trust at all levels of Olympic management," he said. So he praised reforms announced by the U.S. Olympic Committee Wednesday to be more involved in oversight of host cities, create an office of compliance and be more open about its actions and budget.

"Investigations of what happened is entirely appropriate," he said. He adds that recommendations that independent groups have made so far are valuable, and "I fully support" those made by a USOC commission headed by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.

Romney also said he feels that efforts by such people as Sens. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and John McCain, R-Ariz. -- who called hearings for next month on the bribery scandal -- are focused mostly on how to achieve reform of the International Olympic Committee, and not to gripe about Utah.

"I think they are focused on how to get the IOC to make the kinds of reforms internationally to ensure the problems we had don't happen again," he said.