Attorney General Griffin B. Bell complained yesterday that the Senate Judiciary Committee seems to be dragging out hearings on his choice as top deputy because of fears someone might charge a cover-up.
Bell said in a brief interview that the committee Republicans' prolonged questioning of Benjamin R. Civiletti appeared to be aimed at Bell's operation of the Justice Department.
"I'm entitled to a hearing," he said. "He [Civiletti] has hardly been asked anything he knows about."
Bell declined to say Civilett's nomination was being held hostage. But he said, "I know what they're doing. It's the time we lived in. You're afraid to ever end a hearing because somebody might say there was a cover-up."
Sen. James O. Eastland (D-Miss.), chairman of the committee, also expressed impatience yesterday at the Republicans' announcced intentions to continue the three-week-old hearings.
Sen. Maclcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.) asked yesterday on behalf of his GOP colleagues that 19 witnesses, including five White House aides, he called to testify about Civiletti's knowledge of the controversial dismissal of Philadelphia U.S. Attorney David W. Marston.
Eastland said if that many witnesses were called, the hearings "would run till next winter." He said he didn't agree that such extensive questioning was needed and said he would bring the matter to a committee vote early next week.
A Wallop aide said yesterday that committee rules permit the minority to call witnesses, at least for a day, without a vote.
The Republican members, led by Wallop, have used the Cviletti hearings to examine the Carter administration's dismissal of Marston. The Republican prosecutor - who since has announced his candidady for governor of Pennsylvania - got national publicity when President Carter acknowledged he was involved in urging his replacement.
Rep. Joshua Eilberg (D-Pa.) called Carter last November while he was a potential target of an investigation by Marston's office.
Wallops questioning has ranged over a variety of other issues as well, making the Civiletti hearings in effect an oversight hearing on Justice Department operations.
Bell voiced his complaint yesterday after a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a Justice Department authorization bill for the coming fiscal year.
He said he welcomed oversight but not "som of oversight going under another name. If we're doing something wrong let the committee tell us, but through an oversight hearing."