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Cooley says he’ll plead innocent to ‘trumped up’ charges

December 12, 1996

SALEM, Ore. (AP) _ A defiant Rep. Wes Cooley says he will plead innocent next week to what he called ``trumped up″ charges that he falsely claimed in state voter guides that he served in Korea.

Cooley, a GOP freshman who dropped his re-election bid after being accused of lying about his military background, faces up to 10 years in prison and $200,000 in fines if convicted of twice making false statements.

``This is a bunch of trumped up business,″ Cooley told Portland TV station KATU Wednesday night. ``I’m sure I will be vindicated on all these charges. If you look at the whole situation, I’m kind of happy now that it will finally go to court.″

A federal grand jury is also investigating whether Cooley, 64, lied about when he got married so his wife could fraudulently continue to collect benefits as a Marine widow.

The indictment, made public Wednesday, cited two 1994 state Voters’ Pamphlets in which Cooley listed ``Army Special Forces, Korea,″ among his qualifications.

While Cooley has said that he served in Korea, he told KATU that his statement in the voter guides was only meant to indicate he was a member of Army Special Forces during the Korean War.

Military records cited in published reports indicate that while Cooley did serve in the Army, he never left the United States during the 1950-53 war and didn’t finish his training until after the armistice was signed.

The grand jury heard testimony from Cooley’s Army buddies, his ex-wife and elections officials.

When his claim was challenged, Cooley was unable to produce any evidence that it was true. He said the records were destroyed in a fire.

The one man Cooley said could verify his claims was a former master sergeant, Clifford Poppy. But Poppy, 70, of Phoenix, told the grand jury that Cooley had lied.

``He’s told that lie so many times, he believes it himself,″ Poppy said Wednesday. ``I was shot at and I did shoot at others in Korea. If he had ever really served in combat, he wouldn’t be bragging about it, because it is not a pleasant experience.″

Cooley, elected to Congress in 1994 from a mostly rural area in southeastern Oregon, had become a major source of embarrassment for the state GOP. For a time, he refused to drop his re-election bid even when it appeared he would lose.

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