House Majority Leader Jim Wright (D-Tex.) said yesterday that the troubled House Assassinations Committee probably could be saved if Chairman Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.) and chief investigator Richard Sprague "are both willing to swallow their pride a little bit."
Wright said he has ordered Gonzalez and Sprague to work with each other and with Kenneth Brooten, whom Gonzalez had picked to replace Sprague, to "develop an organization chart and reduce the staff to something a lot less than 73."
If Conzalez and Sprague end their feud and accept those terms, the majority leader said, "the House will more than likely authorize the committee to go ahead with its investigations."
The committee's investigations of the assassinations of President Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. have been immobilized since Feb. 10, when Gonzalez tried to fire Sprague but was blocked by committee members who supported the investigator.
Gonzalez cut off the paychecks of Sprague and his staff and told Attorney General Griffin B. Bell not to give them access to FBI files. Gonzalez then named Brooten to take over as staff director.
Under the plan Wright has developed, Sprague and Brooten would remain on the staff. Sprague would handle the investigations and Brooten would be in charge of administration and the committee's budget.
The committee is scheduled to expire March 31 unless the House votes to continue its work. Wright said an extension probably would be voted if the Gonzalez-Sprague battle is resolved.
Wright said he would recommend that the investigators concentrate first on the King killing. "From what I've been told," he said, "there may be reason to believe that the Martin Luther King [assassination] is more potentially productive."
The majority leader said House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) had asked him to play "dove of peace" between Gonzalez and Sprague.
"It's not so easy," he said. "I'm in the posture of a Marrying Sam trying to perform a shotgun wedding when neither side wants to get married."
The committee's public information officer told the Associated Press that Sprague had not agreed to the majority leader's proposals. Gozalez was ill at his home and could not be reached.
To date, Sprague has refused to permit Brooten to enter the committee's offices. But Wright said he was confident they could work together if the committee's work continues.