The sad saga of House Speaker Jim Wright seems to be taking another unseemly twist.
The Texas Democrat is facing a hearing before the House Ethics Committee on allegations that he violated House rules. If that situation weren't bad enough, Wright's case may become muddied by the ethics of his attorney William Oldaker unless some changes are made.It seems that Oldaker is representing not only the beleaguered congressman, but is also legal counsel for about six witnesses who will be called to testify before the committee.
While Oldaker is quick to point out that there is nothing technically wrong with this arrangement as long as all clients receive fair representation and no conflict of interest develops, public confidence suffers when Wright and six witnesses share the same attorney. It raises the suspicion of orchestrated testimonies.
Imagine the outcry that would have arisen if all the witness called to testify during the Iran-Contra hearings involving Lt. Col. Oliver North had shared the same attorney. The credibility of their testimony would have been sharply questioned at the very least.
Though Oldaker's other clients are said to be friendly towards Wright and their testimony is expected to be favorable, the situation still smacks of a whitewash. The problem is compounded because of the well-known reluctance of the Ethics Committee members to investigate their colleagues in the House.
Keep in mind that Wright is not charged with violations of the law, only with violations of House ethics rules. He is accused of improperly intervening several years ago on behalf of Texas oil and gas producers with whom he had financial ties, of improperly intervening in more recent years on behalf of some Texas savings and loan executives, and of improperly profiting from a book he supposedly wrote but was produced in large part by a member of his congressional staff on public time.
The House Ethics Committee should make sure the Wright case is handled so as to meet not just the technical requirements but to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. That means that Wright and his friends ought to retain a few more attorneys than they have now.