President Reagan has fueled the fire around House Speaker Jim Wright by saying it would be "more proper" for an independent prosecutor than for the House ethics committee to investigate the Texas Democrat.
The committee has announced a preliminary inquiry into allegations against the speaker, but Republicans attacking Wright have urged that an independent, outside counsel be named to probe the charges.Reagan offered his views on the subject Wednesday in an interview with several foreign newspapers and the Los Angeles Times in connection with the upcoming economic summit in Canada.
The president was asked about allegations that Wright improperly profited from a book and whether the controversy "might mute the impact of the ethics questions in the presidential campaign" - a question that at this point has focused on Reagan's administration, especially Attorney General Edwin Meese.
"I think it is proper that there is an investigation going forward with regard to these charges," Reagan replied, "but I don't think that anyone should give an opinion until we know whether they are just accusations or whether they have really happened."
That said, he was pressed about whether an independent counsel should be involved in the Wright matter "or if the House is the proper investigator."
Reagan responded, "I have to wonder if it should not be an independent counsel from the standpoint of the relationship of the speaker to the majority of the committee. And I think everyone would feel that it was more proper if it was done by an investigator outside, an appointed investigator."
Contrary to the president's assertion, the 12-member Committee on Standards of Official Conduct is the only House panel with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. The chairman, however, is a Democrat, California Rep. Julian Dixon.
Wright's office had no immediate response to Reagan's comment, but an aide noted the Texan has said repeatedly that the decision on whether to appoint a special counsel "is up to the committee." He has denied any violation of House ethics rules, saying he is confident of exoneration.
The 1978 Ethics in Government Act, under which Meese and other top Reagan aides have been investigated, does not apply to members of Congress.