House Republicans want leaders to give up subpoenaed bank records

April 29, 1992|By David Johnston | David Johnston,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Congressional Republicans said yesterday that they want the House to turn over all bank records subpoenaed by the Justice Department as the lawmakers, fearing the political repercussions of resistance, rebelled against their leader.

The Republicans' demand puts them in direct conflict with the Democratic leadership, which has indicated that it may resist the subpoenas.

It also represents a reversal by Rep. Robert H. Michel of Illinois, the House Republican leader, who said on Monday that he favored narrowing the scope of the subpoenas.

The subpoenas seek all the bank's records for a 39-month period from 1988 to 1991, both for the hundreds of lawmakers who overdrew their accounts and for the 170 members who never wrote an overdraft. The House has until tomorrow to respond.

After a meeting of Republican leaders yesterday, Mr. Michel explained his shift, saying that the constitutional issues were not as serious as he had at first believed and that the Republican members of the House ethics committee had advised him that the disclosure of the information was justified.

The Republican switch left House Speaker Thomas S. Foley increasingly isolated, without bipartisan support to solidify his resistance to the subpoenas.

Even members of his own party seemed to expect that at least some Democrats would follow the Republicans in capitulating to the Justice Department's demands.

Mr. Foley, a Democrat from Washington state, spurned an informal request for the records by a special counsel, Malcolm R. Wilkey, a retired federal appeals court judge who was named by Attorney General William P. Barr to investigate the bank.

Mr. Foley said in a letter to House members that the Justice Department's subpoenas were far too broad and that the investigation as proposed was an open-ended examination of the finances of every member of the House.

When House members had begun to believe the political furor over the House bank was subsiding, they returned from their spring recess yesterday to face the subpoena and a letter from Mr. Wilkey advising them that he is investigating the possibility of criminal fraud at the bank in the form of check-kiting schemes.

The subpoenas --ed lawmakers' hopes of putting the House bank and post office scandals behind them and turning to legislative issues.

"The momentum of this issue had pretty well played out, but this does revive it in an entirely different direction," said Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Republican of Illinois. "The judge is looking for criminal acts and we have a duty to cooperate with that search. It's like when the teacher says empty your pockets, you better empty them."

His comments seemed to illustrate sentiment that appeared to be building in both parties to comply with the subpoenas.

Democrats are scheduled to hold a caucus today to discuss the issue, and a measure to turn over the records to Mr. Wilkey could be introduced on the House floor later in the day.

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