Conservative activist Paul Weyrich has asked Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh to name a special prosecutor to investigate an allegation that House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) has violated federal criminal law, a spokesman for Weyrich said Tuesday.
Weyrich, whose accusations of drinking and womanizing against former Sen. John Tower (R-Tex.) contributed to the Senate’s decision to reject him as President Bush’s defense secretary, refused to elaborate on his reasons for making the charge against Wright or to make public his letter to Thornburgh until today.
A spokesman for Wright dismissed the request as a “political ploy.”
“This is clearly an attempt by Paul Weyrich to make up with his conservative friends for torpedoing the Tower nomination,” said the spokesman, Mark Johnson. “If you needed more evidence that this was politically motivated, Weyrich’s letter should provide it.”
Johnson said that an independent counsel--Chicago attorney Richard Phelan--already has compiled a voluminous report now under consideration by the House Ethics Committee.
Thornburgh had no immediate reaction to Weyrich’s six-page letter, which was delivered to the Justice Department Monday morning with a dozen pages of attachments. Weyrich is head of the Free Congress Education and Research Foundation.
Under an order originally issued by former Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III, Thornburgh has 15 days to consider Weyrich’s allegation of criminal conduct by Wright. Meese’s order provides for the naming of a special prosecutor “whenever the attorney general determines there is specific and credible evidence that any member of Congress has violated any federal criminal law.”
Thornburgh could reject Weyrich’s request as too vague or originating with an unreliable source. Or, as seems more likely, he could authorize a preliminary inquiry, giving himself 90 days to see if there is sufficient evidence to justify the appointment of a special prosecutor who would be independent of the Justice Department.
While Thornburgh originally was critical of Meese’s order on grounds that special counsels are not necessary to investigate members of Congress, he invoked the order in deciding to investigate charges of payroll padding against non-voting House Delegate Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.).
For Wright, the request by Weyrich came as an unexpected blow at a time when the Ethics Committee already is weighing a series of misconduct charges against him and preparing its recommendations for announcement in early April.
Wright, while denying that he broke any law or violated any House rule, recently acknowledged that his judgment may have been faulty, especially on personal financial matters.
The attacks against Wright were launched by Rep. Newt Gingrich of Georgia, one of the House’s most partisan Republicans. But Democrats have started taking the charges seriously and Wright has said that he would not seek another term as Speaker if he lost the confidence of his Democratic colleagues in the House.
Report Due in April
Meanwhile, Ethics Chairman Julian C. Dixon (D-Los Angeles) said that the committee cannot wrap up its work this week before an Easter recess and will not have its long-awaited report ready before the first week of April.
Both Dixon and the committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. John T. Myers of Indiana, said that the report will be bipartisan.
“It will not be a party-line vote, I can promise you that,” Myers told reporters. “This is too important for that.”