WASHINGTON — The vice chairman of the Senate select committee investigating the Iran- contra scandal said Thursday that the panel will hire a single nonpartisan staff in an effort to avoid the party rivalry that marred the Senate Watergate investigation in the 1970s.
Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), the highest ranking Republican on the new Senate panel, said that the committee hopes to begin public hearings by March 1 and believes that Iranian officials may cooperate in the probe.
It is "not unrealistic at all" to expect Iranian cooperation, he said. He declined to elaborate.
Rudman, speaking to reporters before and after a closed committee session on procedural matters, said the committee's staff will report to both the six Democratic and the five Republican members of the panel.
"The committee will not be partisan in its inquiry," he said.
The Senate Watergate committee, by contrast, had separate staffs for each party. Former Watergate attorneys recall that the staffs mistrusted each other, failed to communicate and often duplicated each other's work.
Separate Chief Counsels
Meanwhile, the House committee investigating the arms sale to Iran and diversion of profits to Nicaraguan guerrillas will have separate chief counsels and deputies for each party, but the rest of the staff will work as a unit.
Rudman said that the Senate panel probably will conduct at least five weeks of hearings, the "overwhelming number" of them open. The Senate panel and its counterpart in the House will alternate weeks of testimony and coordinate witness lists.
"We're frankly not interested in competition," Rudman said. "There is no Nielsen rating that I know of that will be awarded."
He said both the House and Senate panels have notified Secretary of State George P. Shultz that they may wish to question members of foreign governments, including Iran, Israel, Switzerland and Brunei.
Both the House and Senate select committees plan "intensive discussions" with Lawrence E. Walsh, the court-appointed independent counsel investigating the arms scandal, before deciding whether to grant any witnesses immunity, Rudman said.
More Walsh Appointments
Walsh announced Thursday the appointment of four more associate counsels as he moved to complete a staff of about 25 attorneys, investigators and clerical workers.
Walsh selected San Francisco attorney John W. Keker, a former law clerk to the late Chief Justice Earl Warren; Clifford M. Sloan of Chicago, a former law clerk to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens; Randy I. Bellows of Washington, a former staff attorney of the District of Columbia Public Defender Service, and Judith Hetherton, who has been deputy chief of the appellate section of the U.S. attorney's office in Washington.
The House select committee has named Washington attorney John W. Nields Jr. as the Democrats' chief counsel and former CIA official Thomas R. Smeeton as the Republican counsel. Rudman said that the Senate panel probably will announce its chief counsel next week.
Staff writer Robert A. Rosenblatt contributed to this story.