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White House, Democrats Point Fingers in S&L Crisis

June 20, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The White House and congressional Democrats, drawing their political swords for an election-year battle, are bluntly blaming each other for the multibillion-dollar savings and loan scandal.

But President Bush said today he wants to stay out of that debate.

″What I’m trying to do is not respond to individuals and to simply keep moving forward on this process,″ Bush told a news conference in Huntsville, Ala.

The White House went on the offensive Tuesday, daring Democrats to try to turn the crisis into a campaign issue.

″There are a lot of battles that can be fought on this turf, and we’re ready,″ White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater warned. He said ″the Democrats have a big role″ in the collapse of the savings and loan industry.

Returning the fire, Democrats accused the White House of moving sluggishly against those who looted thrift institutions.

″A spark seemed to be ignited there and I think more important than continuing to pour fuel on that spark is to work cooperatively with the Congress in trying to get this mess solved,″ Bush said.

Pointing to 10 years of Republican rule in the White House, Sen. Tim Wirth, D-Colo., questioned, ″Who ran the government during this decade of mismanagement and negligence?″

Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., who was singled out for attack by the White House, called Fitzwater ″the mean-spirited little spokesman″ and accused him of trying to intimidate Democrats into silence.

Referring to another sensitive political issue, Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., said, ″Maybe Mr. Fitzwater has been so busy the last two or three weeks protecting us from the flag burners that he forgot to do his homework on the history of the last decade.″

In an apparent attempt to blunt criticism that his administration is not doing enough to prosecute S&L crime, President Bush is scheduled on Friday to address the nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh summoned the top federal prosecutors to the meeting at the Justice Department, said spokesman Dan Eramian.

The charges and counter-charges did not shed any new light on the S&L scandal but put it into sharp focus as a key issue for the fall elections.

Estimates of how much it will cost taxpayers to clean up the industry range anywhere from $130 billion to $500 billion and more.

There were these other S&L developments Tuesday:

-Rep. Frank Annunzio, D-Ill., demanded that federal regulators spell out their charges against President Bush’s son, Neil, in the $1 billion collapse of the Silverado Banking, Savings and Loan Association of Denver.

The Office of Thrift Supervision has brought administrative charges against Neil Bush, a former director of Silverado, but has not publicly outlined its case. ″No law or regulation prevents the agency from revealing the charges,″ Annunzio said at a hearing by the House Banking Committee. Neil Bush has denied any wrongdoing.

-Charles H. Keating Jr. predicted that a federal judge will give him back his Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, seized by the government in April 1989 in perhaps the nation’s costliest S&L collapse. Lawyers for Keating and the government summarized final arguments in the case Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin.

Fitzwater’s attack against Democrats was notable both for the sharpness of his words and his willingness to point fingers.

″Take a look at Jim Wright and Tony Coelho and Mr. Kerrey and some of his Nebraska accounts and Don Riegle and DeConcini; take a look at all of them,″ Fitzwater said. ″I don’t think you hear any serious analysis of this problem that doesn’t point to Freddy St Germain and the changes that were made in the banking laws back at that point.″

Wright, the former House speaker, and Coelho, the former House assistant Democratic leader and a principal Democratic fund-raiser, resigned last year amid questions of ethical impropriety.

Riegle and DeConcini are among five legislators being investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee for allegedly intervening with federal regulators after accepting political contributions from Keating.

Fernand St Germain was chairman of the House Banking Committee during the adoption of a bill - cosponsored by Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah - to overhaul the S&L industry. Fitzwater did not elaborate on his remarks about Kerrey.

Asked if he would say if Republicans were at fault for the crisis, Fitzwater replied, ″No.″ He said Neil Bush was not involved in any S&L scandal.

On Capitol Hill, Pryor said Congress’ fault was one of negligence in not requiring regulators in the last years of the Reagan administration to take lie-detector tests. ″They simply were not telling us the truth. The truth was that the S&L crisis was here, it was happening and we were not being told the truth,″ he said.

Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas applauded Fitzwater and said he hopes he keeps it up. ″The president doesn’t have to take it lying down just because some member of Congress attacks,″ Dole said.

As for blame for the crisis, Dole said, ″In the final analysis, it lies everywhere.″

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