The special counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics formally recommended yesterday that the panel move its four-month probe of Sen. Herman E. Talmadge (D-Ga.) into a more serious full-scale "trial" phase. But the committee vote on the recommendation is not likely until after Nov. 7.
After three hours of closed-door testimony by Daniel Minchew, the chief witness in the Talmadge investigation, Committee Chairman Adlai E. Stevenson (D-Ill) told reporters yesterday that outside commitments would probably keep the full six-member panel from voting on the recommendation of special counsel Carl Eardley until after election day.
Stevenson said the matter was "too serious" to proceed against Talmadge without each member easting his vote in person.
Stevenson declined to comment on newspaper stories about Eardley's report to the Ethics Committee. But a knowledgeable Senate source said yesterday that the report, which was delivered to committee members late Monday, contains a recommendation from Eardley to go ahead with the first full-scale hearing of a senator on ethics charges since one was conducted 11 years ago against Sen. Thomas Dodd (D-Conn.).
The Ethics Committee has been gathering evidence concerning a number of allegations against Talmadge which originally gress out of his bitter divorce from his wife, Betty. Recently the focus of its attention has been Minchew's claim that at Talmadge's direction he ran a hidden bank account in 1973 and 1974 while he was Talmadge's administrative assistant. The account, according to sources, contained thousands of dollars in illegal Senate reimbursement funds to Talmadge and thousands more in diverted Talmadge campaign funds.
Talmadge has repeatedly denied knowing of the existence of the account in the Riggs National Bank here or benefiting from its deposits.
Minchew's appearance before four of the committee members yesterday was the first face-to-face meeting he has had with the panel, although he has testified under oath to Eardley and other committee staffers on six occasions.
The former Talmadge aide called the session "very thorough" and "very fair." It was a profesional and properly handled session," he said.
One sources present at the hearing yesterday said the committee reviewed most of the charges and allegations raised by Minchew but did not bring up any new or unexpected evidence against Talmadge.
Minchew was questioned yesterday by Stevenson and committee members Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.), Harrison Schmitt (R.N.M.) and Robert Morgan (D-N.C.) The remaining two committee members, Sen. John G. Tower (R-Tex.) and Sen. Abraham A. Ribicoff (D-Conn.), have missed most of the committee's meetings because of outside commitments.
Following the hearing, Lynne Murphy, a spokesman for the committee, said Eardley's report was formally turned over to the ethics panel.
"Nothing that Mr. Minchew said today changed anything that was in that report, so now it is final," she said.
Talmadge, a 23-year Senate veteran, has indicated that the secret bank account revealed by Minchew earlier this year was a scheme set up by his former aide. Neither the Senate committee nor a federal grand jury here, which is also looking into Talmadge's finances, has indicated which side of the controversy it believes.
Minchew has claimed a total of nearly $39,000 in Senate funds and campaign contributions were funneled through the account. Senate investigators have also focused on some $37,000 in Senate expenses claimed by Talmadge which were either not acceptable or for monexistent items. Talmadge paid back the money earlier this year, claiming the expenses requests were due to staff accounting errors.
According to Ethics Committee rules, it would take four votes out of the six members to send the probe of Talmadge on to the next phase. If that happened, the committee would then have to file formal charges against the Georgia senator and, if he were found guilty, he could be censured, stripped of his committee seniority or expelled from the Senate.
In Atlanta yesterday Talmadge told a luncheon audience he had been "wrongly accused."
"I have done nothing wrong," he said. "I have converted no federal funds to my own use. I have con-no campaign funds to my own use."