Democrats will try to use the Iran-Contra affair against any GOP presidential nominee, Republican Party Chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. said Friday, but he asserted that several House Democrats also are vulnerable on ethics issues and called for an independent counsel to investigate them.
Fahrenkopf, at a breakfast session with reporters, singled out House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.), and noted that questions have been raised about Wright's ties to financial backers in Texas.
If Wright were in the executive branch, Fahrenkopf said, "there would be howls on the Hill" for a special prosecutor. "What I'm saying is what's good for the goose is good for the gander."
The GOP chairman Friday took a two-pronged approach. On one hand, he played down the importance of the Iran-Contra affair, calling it "a horse that has been beat for a long period of time" and saying: "I don't think it's going to be a major issue in 1988." At the same time, he attacked Democratic House members to shift the ethics spotlight to their camp.
Because the House exempts itself from the Ethics in Government Act, he said, "there is no way to have an independent investigator come in" and probe possible violations. He urged the House to draft legislation that would "meet constitutional standards" and authorize an independent counsel.
"If the Democratic party and its candidates want to make ethics in government an issue in this campaign, they've got to be honest with the American people," Fahrenkopf said. "That means they should stop protecting" Democrats "who have apparently violated the law or certainly taken action that is worthy of investigation."
In an interview, Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Culver City), the ethics committee chairman, dismissed Fahrenkopf's criticism of House ethics as "partisan." He said his committee, composed of six Democrats and six Republicans, has conducted impartial investigations and made reports that "clearly spell out what we felt was the appropriate action."