The Senate Ethics Committee, already under Republican fire for foot-dragging, is considering a mid-November public hearing in the "Keating Five" cases that would delay any decision until well after the Nov. 6 elections.
If the committee took that course at a meeting today, one Republican and four Democratic senators would remain under investigation at election time for their assistance to savings and loan figure Charles H. Keating Jr.Republicans on Monday demanded a swift, pre-election decision on a special counsel's proposal that two of the five, including lone Republican John McCain of Arizona, be dropped from the investigation.
Congressional sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the committee members have discussed the public hearing idea and could decide on that course when the committee deliberates today. Four votes are needed to advance the investigation from the current preliminary stage.
Special counsel Robert S. Bennett has recommended that the investigation continue against Democratic Sens. Alan Cranston of California, Dennis DeConcini of Arizona and Donald W. Riegle Jr. of Michigan. He proposed that probes of McCain and Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, be dropped.
The committee is trying to determine whether there is a connection between the five senators' intervention with banking regulators for Keating, the former owner of the failed Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, and the $1.3 million in political donations they received from him and his associates.
The Irvine, Calif.-based thrift was seized by the federal government in April 1989, and it may cost taxpayers more than $2 billion to cover the losses.
One source noted that senators will return in mid-November for party organizational meetings and predicted a hearing would be held at that time without any decision this week to advance or drop the probe among any senator.
The investigation took on partisan overtones on the Senate floor Monday. Republicans complained bitterly that there were inexcusable delays. Democrats countered that the GOP was selectively leaking material that damaged Cranston, DeConcini and Riegle.
McCain began the round of Republican complaints Monday, contending that "the process has a credibility problem" because the special counsel's report has been "gathering dust . . . for six weeks."