WASHINGTON — Efforts to appoint an independent counsel to investigate the Bush Administration's covert policies and prewar assistance to Iraq received a boost Wednesday when the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said his panel will consider the matter.
"Some disturbing information has surfaced suggesting that this officially sanctioned policy may have gone as far as to involve violations of federal criminal law," said Judiciary Chairman Jack Brooks (D-Tex.). "In order to investigate these allegations thoroughly and definitively, it may be necessary for the Judiciary Committee to request that an independent counsel be appointed."
Brooks is seen as a key figure in the independent counsel process. House strategists said that his decision to schedule a June 2 hearing on the issue was a sign that he may support calls for an independent counsel.
Brooks acted after a request from Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.), the chairman of the House Banking Committee, which has been investigating the role of U.S. companies and banks in arming Iraq. Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N. Y.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, also has sought a special prosecutor.
The Judiciary Committee has the power to make an official request on behalf of Congress for a special prosecutor to investigate potential government misconduct. The Justice Department, however, is not required to call for the appointment even after receiving such a request. If the department does decide one is merited, the final decision is then made by a special panel of three federal judges.
Congressional sources said there are a number of potential areas of investigation. Among them are third country transfers of American arms to Iraq during the Ronald Reagan and Bush administrations, delays in the indictment of officials at an Atlanta bank that provided Iraq with billions of dollars in fraudulent loans and misleading testimony and altered documents provided to congressional committees.
Calls for an independent counsel come as Democrats in Congress are charging that the Bush Administration has refused to cooperate with congressional investigations of the prewar U.S. policy toward Iraq. They contend that the Administration has withheld documents and refused to declassify other records that might prove embarrassing to the Administration.
On Wednesday, Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.), chairman of a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee, wrote to the secretaries of state, defense and commerce and the National Security Council asking that documents regarding the Administration's Iraq policy be declassified.
Documents from a number of agencies had been provided to the subcommittee on the condition that they remain classified and their contents not made public. Gejdenson wrote that the documents no longer merit classified status and should be released to the public.
Gejdenson said the documents describe "the sale of military equipment by the United States to Iraq in the years, weeks and days leading up to the war in the Persian Gulf."
Other records outline the sale of jets, missiles and howitzers to Iraq by other countries with what the congressman called "the tacit consent of the United States even after the end of the Iran-Iraq war."
An unclassified document released by Gejdenson indicated that the policy of the Reagan Administration had been to ease restrictions on the sale of U.S. technology to Iraq, even in cases involving military uses.
The Aug. 10, 1988, Commerce Department memo said the Defense Department opposed licensing the sale of $600,000 worth of computer equipment with military applications to Iraq because the technology was destined for a missile-producing facility. But the memo said that the State Department recommended approving the license.
In seeking a high-level review of the license, the memo said that the National Security Council had recently decided "to more favorably review export license applications to Iraq." The memo did not disclose whether the sale was ultimately approved.
Waas is a special correspondent and Frantz is a Times staff writer.