WASHINGTON (AP) _ Former Rep. Thomas L. Ashley said Friday he has been regularly advising Neil Bush on his savings and loan troubles as a longtime family friend - but not at President Bush's request.

Neil Bush told federal regulators last December that Ashley, a banking industry official who was a college classmate of the president's, ''apparently, you know, called my father, and then so at Dad's request he called me.''

Ashley confirmed in a telephone interview he has talked to the president about Neil Bush but said he contacted the son on his own after reading of his troubles in the newspaper. He said President Bush was well aware of his activity.

Meanwhile Friday, Democrats got the 12th signature needed to petition the Justice Department for a special prosecutor to look into the collapse of a Denver savings and loan where the younger Bush had been a director.

And Democratic House Speaker Thomas S. Foley lashed back at a Republican official's accusation that the Democrats were to blame for a national S&L crisis expected to cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.

Ed Rollins, chairman of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, said the Democrats had sold out ''for a few million dollars in campaign contributions.'' But the normally mild-mannered Foley, D-Wash., angrily dismissed Rollins as ''in a panic ... an out of control person'' making an ''unrestrained and totally raw partisan accusation.''

Tempers on all sides have risen as more attention has been given to Neil Bush, who faces a public disciplinary hearing before federal regulators in September on his role as a director of the bankrupt Silverado Banking, Savings and Loan.

He has been accused of conflict of interest but has said he has done nothing wrong. His father, the president, has twice defended his ''honor and integrity'' during news conferences but has promised to stay out of the investigation.

Neil Bush's statement to federal regulators is contained in a deposition included in documents released by the Office of Thrift Supervision. It was first reported Friday in The Denver Post.

Asked by the regulators whether he had ever discussed operations of the S&L with his father, the younger Bush replied:

''I didn't discuss details with him. And if he inquired about Silverado, it would have been very rare, I mean if at all, and I don't know if I ever voluntarily disclosed to him when I was a member of the board anything about the goings on of Silverado.''

He added, ''I never, I can state this with great clarity, that I never intentionally brought him into, you know, I mean I never asked him for assistance or advice on Silverado matters.''

In response to the regulators' questions, Neil Bush said no one had suggested to him what his testimony on any matter should be.

Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., one of 12 petition signers representing a majority of Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, said their request to Attorney General Dick Thornburgh for a special prosecutor was made because ''the people have a right to feel we're doing everything to get impartial justice done.''

She said there is a public sense that in the S&L mess and now the aftermath, ''it's who you know, not what you know or what you've done.''

Justice Department spokesman Dan Eramian said, ''The letter is under consideration as provided for under the independent counsel statutes.''

Thornburgh has 15 days to decide whether to open a preliminary inquiry to determine if a special prosecutor should be appointed, then another 15 days to tell Congress how he acted on its request. He has 90 days from start of the preliminary inquiry to determine whether to appoint an independent counsel.

Ashley, a former Democratic congressman from Ohio, said Friday, ''I've talked to the president (about his son's situation) on a couple of social occasions, when we're alone. ... I talk about the kids. Neil's one of the kids.''

Ashley said that his own experience in politics and in bank regulation made him a good source of advice for Neil Bush. ''The situation is such that he can't go to his father and talk to him,'' Ashley said.

Ashley, who was a college classmate of George Bush's at Yale, denied President Bush had asked him to intervene. He said, ''If Neil thinks his father called me, he's mistaken.''

Ashley, 67, is president of the Association of Bank Holding Companies, a banking lobbying organization based in Washington. The organization generally does not get involved in savings and loan issues, Ashley said.

He said he contacted Neil Bush on his own last winter after reading about his troubles in newspapers.

Since then, ''I've seen Neil a half dozen times. We talk about it,'' Ashley said.

He said he is not trying to serve as a go-between for Neil Bush and the president, nor trying to influence any decisions. ''I'm too smart for that,'' Ashley said.

Ashley and Bush have remained close friends since they were both members of the secret society Skull and Bones while they were undergraduates at Yale University in the late 1940s.

''Is everyone who is close to the president supposed to stay away from Neil?'' Ashley asked. President Bush ''doesn't go along with that. He rejects that,'' the former lawmaker added.

Ashley said that Neil Bush has made up his own mind in the matter, including his decision to fight the case and refusal to negotiate an out-of- court settlement.

''I'm a good sounding board,'' he said. ''It's not a partisan matter or he wouldn't be coming to a Democrat.''