WASHINGTON — An adviser to House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) tried to sell weapons to the Contras through Lt. Col. Oliver L. North's private network three months before the Iran-Contra disclosures ended the North operation, a letter proposing the sale said.
Richard M. Pena, a former House Foreign Affairs Committee staff member, contacted North associate Richard R. Miller in 1986 offering materiel from two South American companies. One would sell grenades, bombs and mines, and the other sold boots, the letter said.
Opposed Military Aid
Such activity would appear to be at odds with the objectives of Wright, who has opposed military aid to the Contras and has taken an active role in efforts to get a negotiated peace agreement between Nicaragua's warring factions.
Pena has been one of Wright's advisers on Central America over the last few years and as recently as January was Wright's paid emissary to the region while efforts to arrange peace talks were under way, said Wright aide Marshall Lynam. He said Pena was on the Speaker's payroll for a few days on each of three occasions, in August and November last year, and in January.
Pena's Aug. 15, 1986, letter was addressed to a Cayman Islands front company, World Affairs Counselors, set up by Miller and his partner, Frank Gomez, to handle Contra transactions for North.
Through Lynam, Wright denied any knowledge of "anything he (Pena) might have had to do with arms sales or anything like that."
"Jim Wright was not aware of any of these activities. He knew Richard Pena as a Texan, a man who had extensive connections and acquaintances in Central America, a person who was acquainted with the Contra people in Central America." Lynam said Wright "had confidence in his advice . . . and had no reason to think there was any reason why he should not use him in an eyes-and-ears capacity."
Sympathetic to Contras
Pena was known to be sympathetic to the Contras, in contrast to other Wright confidants.
The special congressional committees that investigated the Iran-Contra affair took sworn depositions from Pena after finding his letter in Miller's documents, committee sources said. But one source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the committee staff decided not to pursue the Pena matter because it appeared to be an isolated incident, rather than an integral part of the North network.
Miller pleaded guilty in the Iran-Contra case, along with conservative fund-raiser Carl R. (Spitz) Channell, to conspiring with North, then a National Security Council aide, to defraud the government by raising money to purchase weapons for the Contras.
Attorneys said it appeared that Pena's actions were lawful.
Apparently, North did not act on Pena's offer before the November, 1986, revelations about the secret U.S. arms sales to Iran and diversion of profits to help the Contras.
Pena could not be reached for comment.