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Former top aide tells of meeting with Soviets



Published: Thu, February 21, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Richards said the FBI warned him that a Soviet embassy official was really a KGB agent.

CLEVELAND -- Relevance aside, U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. questioned his former chief of staff about meetings with a KGB agent during the congressman's attempts to aid an accused Nazi death camp guard.

Craig S. Morford, lead prosecutor, objected to the relevance in Traficant's racketeering trial this morning.

U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells sustained the objection, then allowed the topic after Traficant asked H. West Richards if the FBI had ever approached him about the KGB agent.

Richards said he was questioned about his and Traficant's involvement in the John Demjanjuk case. Demjanjuk was a Cleveland autoworker once thought to be Ivan the Terrible, a death camp guard during World War II.

Concerns about embassy: Richards said the FBI agent and liaison to Congress had concerns that the Soviet embassy was having interaction with congressional offices.

Richards said that his office was interacting with the embassy to retrieve records and information about Demjanjuk, and that the information eventually led to the man's release.

KGB suspicions: Richards said he was informed by the FBI that an embassy employee was a KGB agent posing as a diplomat.

Traficant asked, "Did we stoop to the KGB to deal with the Demjanjuk matter?"

Richards answered, "Yes. But I wouldn't use the word 'stoop.'"

Under questioning by Morford, Richards said he met with the Soviet official from 1990 to 1991, in the office and restaurants. He said the FBI was concerned about the interaction, and warned him that he was dealing with a KGB agent.

Traficant's reaction: Morford asked if the FBI was picking on Traficant. Richards said no, it was a House-wide warning after the Berlin Wall had come down in 1989 and the Soviet embassy had a large outreach program in Congress.

Morford then asked Richards what he told his boss. Richards said he explained why the FBI liaison had met with him, and his concerns. And he was not asked to stop meeting with the agent, but to keep the FBI informed, Richards said.

When Traficant questioned his former chief of staff, Richards said they had decided that if the KGB had asked us for information, "we would let the FBI know, and report any meetings with the agent to the FBI."




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