House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) Wednesday angrily denied a report that he once threatened to expose a federal bank regulator as a homosexual in order to promote the interests of Texas savings and loan officials.
“The story . . . is preposterous,” Wright told reporters, referring to an article in the Washington Times that said such an allegation was being reviewed by the House Ethics Committee as it concludes its investigation of Wright.
“I didn’t threaten this kind of thing. . . . It’s not in my character,” the Speaker said.
Wright clearly was irritated by the newspaper’s suggestion that it had access to information in the secret report being presented to the 12-member ethics panel by Richard Phelan, a Chicago lawyer hired as special counsel for the politically sensitive inquiry.
The story said that Phelan spent an extra month to examine a “last-minute allegation” that Wright intervened with officials of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board on behalf of Texas executives of savings and loan associations regulated by the agency.
One of the major charges against Wright is that he brought extraordinary pressure on the FHLBB, including its former chairman, Edwin J. Gray, to be more lenient with financially troubled Texas thrifts and allow them to plead their cases directly to top officials in Washington.
In its story, the Washington Times said the allegation accused him of threatening federal officials in Washington with “blowing the whistle” on a Texas regulator’s homosexuality unless the S&L; executives were allowed to circumvent that level with their pleas.
The Speaker, who has denied any impropriety in his contacts with the federal regulatory agency, said in a statement that it was no secret that he had complained to Gray about “inconsistent and heavy-handed enforcement” by FHLBB officials in Texas and asked him to check into it.
“That’s not new news,” he said. “This was completely proper and consistent with the work done by members of Congress all the time.
“But there never was any demand that anyone be fired, and there was never any threat to expose anyone’s alleged sexual preference,” he added. “These suggestions are completely untrue.”
Wright’s quick response to the story showed his sensitivity to fallout from the eight-month-old investigation of his financial affairs by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct.
Committee Chairman Julian C. Dixon (D-Los Angeles) has said he expects the six Democrats and six Republicans on the panel to begin deciding on the week of March 13 whether the allegations against Wright were substantiated. In the meantime, he has clamped a tight secrecy lid on the report and discussions about it.
Rep. Thomas E. Petri (R-Wis.), a member of the panel, said the deliberations so far were “not at all” partisan and that the committee was trying to see if it could reach a consensus on the issues. Petri said he assumes the report eventually will be made public.
Ridicules Election Plan
Meantime, Rep. Beryl Anthony Jr. (D-Ark.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, ridiculed reported Republican Party plans to make Wright’s seat a top priority in the 1990 elections because of the ethics probe.
“The Republicans aren’t concerned with Jim Wright’s ethics,” Anthony said in a statement. “They are worried about his effectiveness.” He said the last Congress--the first one that Wright led as Speaker--was the most productive in the last quarter century.