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When Hale Champion, Harvard's former financial vice president, was tapped in January for a top spot in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, everyone at Harvard agreed that while the University would miss him, Champion's unique combination of financial expertise and liberal attitudes would be great for the country.
At the moment, however, the country seems to disagree. On Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee delayed Champion's confirmation as Undersecretary of HEW, pending an examination of charges that Champion, as acting undersecretary of HEW, interfered in an investigation into a California health care corporation.
Champion, a long-time California resident, denied at his first confirmation hearing on March 9 that he ever took action to slow departmental or any other investigations in California, or discussed the investigations with any of his old California friends.
But John J. Walsh, who was the director of HEW's office of investigations when it was looking into the health care center, has sworn in an affadavit that Champion was present at a series of meetings between Walsh and Joseph A. Califano Jr., Secretary of HEW, when Califano demanded that Walsh channel information gleaned during the investigation through the office of HEW's general counsel.
Walsh apparently objected to that order, but was even more incensed by a second order--whose source remains unclear--that Walsh show summaries of his evidence to the health care corporation under investigation.
Because Walsh directs most of his charges at Califano rather than Champion, some observers have speculated that the committee's move may be a way for the Senate to examine Califano's action without taking official notice of the charges against him. They have also speculated that Califano's alleged interference in the investigation could have been the result of pressure from California's congressional delegation to get HEW to stop its examination of the state's Medicaid system.
Champion said this week he thinks the confirmation delay is probably the result of a "misunderstanding" that will be cleared up in the Senate committee's hearing next week.
Champion said yesterday he finds the whole thing rather extraordinary, not because the charges were made, but in the extent to which newspapers have concentrated on the charges of an anonymous source rather than on unequivocal and repeated denials of alleged misdoing. "But those are the vicissitudes of public life, I guess," he added.
Daniel Steiner '54, general counsel to the University, said this week that there is certainly a possibility that Champion could return to Harvard should his Washington spree turn out to be a disaster, as he is officially on a leave of absence.
But Champion said yesterday that while the thought of returning is tempting, he thought he would stay in Washington and see the thing through, thank you very much. "If something's going on, I want to stay and fight," he said.
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