Members of the House ethics committee, promising a bipartisan decision, began discussions Monday on whether a nine-month investigation of Speaker Jim Wright uncovered any violations of House rules.
The chairman of the committee, Rep. Julian Dixon, D-Calif., said that if the panel did not reach a decision by Wednesday night, deliberations would resume following the Easter recess.Monday's meeting was the first full session during which the six Democratic and six Republican members of the panel met without aides to discuss the investigation.
Last week the committee heard from special counsel Richard Phelan, who conducted the investigation, and from Wright's lawyer, William Oldaker.
Dixon, talking with reporters before the committee convened, said he did not known when the committee would reach a decision.
The ethics committee voted last June 9 to begin "a preliminary inquiry" into allegations against Wright, D-Texas. The panel voted to look into six issues, primarily involving financial arrangements for the publication of his book, "Reflections of a Public Man," his intervention with government officials on behalf of Texas savings and loan executives and in behalf of oil and gas interests, and questions about his use of a Fort Worth, Texas, condominium owned by the son of a longtime friend and business partner.
ABC News reported Monday night that Wright was a silent partner in a lucrative Florida land deal while he was involved in savings and loan industry legislation. The deal involved a 20-acre development near Orlando, Fla., called Winderwood. Wright became financially involved in the deal in mid-1986 through his longtime business partner George Mallick, the network said.
Wright, Mallick and their wives formed Mallightco, an investment company that held a one-sixth interest in Winderwood. ABC News estimated that Wright and Mallick tripled their money in less than years, making nearly $90,000 in profit.
Land ownership documents showed only one name on the deal - Orlando lawyer Richard Swann, ABC said. Swann is the chairman of American Pioneer, Orlando's largest savings and loan.
Wright's share in Winderwood remained unknown until 1987, when he was required by House rules to detail all his financial holdings. He then listed Winderwood as his largest single asset, ABC said.
The investigation was launched largely at the insistence of Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., whose own book publishing venture was the subject of questions Monday.
The Washington Post reported that Gingrich set up a limited partnership in 1984 with several Republican political activists who raised $105,000 to promote sales of his book, "Window of Opportunity." Sales of the book proved more modest than expected and the investors made no money on the deal, the newspaper said.
The publisher lost money, the newspaper said, creating a tax benefit for the people who formed the limited partnership.
However, Gingrich's wife earned close to $10,000 for her work as a general partner in the venture, the Post reported. The paper also said some of Gingrich's staff members had been asked to read portions of the book and offer suggestions.
One of the issues in Wright's case involves work on the book by one of his staff aides.
Gingrich, at a news conference, said the partnership arrangement was "completely legal" and did not violate any House rules.
"We were not trying to make a quick buck or arrange any sweetheart deal. We used perfectly acceptable publishing procedures for a legitimate book," he said.
Gingrich has made a bid for the House Republicans' No. 2 leadership post, vacated by Rep. Dick Cheney, R-Wyo., who was confirmed Friday as secretary of defense.
Rep. John Myers, R-Ind., ranking Republican on the ethics committee, was asked if the reports about Gingrich's book would have any effect on the leadership race.
"I don't think they really help anybody. Mr. Gingrich - it certainly poses, I would think some problems for him. But I only speak as one member," Myers said, adding that he had known about the unusual book publishing arrangement.
Although there has been persistent speculation that the ethics committee might split along partisan lines over the Wright case, both Dixon and Myers rejected that prospect.
Dixon, asked if he still expected a bipartisan verdict, said, "Yes. I have no reason to change my mind since last Thursday" when the committee last met.
"The decision we make will not be partisan," Myers said.