The House yesterday again deferred action on a censure resolution against Rep. Charles H. Wilson (D-Calif.) after his defenders protested they were taken by surprise during debate by material not considered by the ethics committee.
Wilson was granted a postponement of further debate and the vote until June 10, which puts it a week after the California primary where Wilson already faces a tough contest.
The ethics committee in April had found Wilson guilty of financial misconduct and recommended that he be censured by the House and stripped of a postal subcommittee chairmanship The committee found that he accepted $10,500 in gifts from a person with a direct interest in legislation pending before Congress and that he converted nearly 25,000 in campaign contributions to personal use.
Two years ago the House had reprimanded Wilson when it concluded that he had made false statements about taking cash from South Korean businessman Tongsun Park.
The House spent three hours getting nowhere on the Wilson case yesterday. Rep. John H. Rousselot (R-Calif.) tried to get it postponed to June 10 at the outset, saying the House needed all its time and concentration yesterday for action on the congressional budget resolution. A Democrat suggested Rousselot hoped that if the censure vote were delayed Wilson would get nominated but that if he were later censured a Republican could knock him off in November.
The House voted, 217 to 182, to go ahead with the Wilson matter yesterday and was nearly halfway through the two-hour debate with Wilson's defender about to make the case for his innocence when things went out of control.
Rep. William M. Thomas (R-Calif.), a member of the ethics committee that heard the evidence and wrote the report on which the House would base its action, read from a document he said was Wilson's 1970 campaign spending report filed with the state of California. Thomas said he had obtained the document just a few days ago and that it buttressed the ethics committee's finding that Wilson had converted campaign funds to his personal use.
Rep. William D. Ford (D-Mich.), who was acting as Wilson's chief defender, protested that this document had not been considered by the ethics committee and that it was unfair to throw new material at Wilson just before the vote.
This led to a series of votes by which the House, first by 199 to 196, and finally by a standing vote of 221 to 41 reconsidered its original action and voted to delay the Wilson matter until June 10. Thomas said the report he read from had been in the files of the ethics committee staff.
The House probably will drop the recommendation that the vote include stripping Wilson of his subcommittee chairmanship. There is a long tradition and strong feeling in the House that chairmanships should be bestowed or withdrawn by party caucuses rather than the full House. Otherwise, the minority party and a minority of the majority party could gang up and remove a chairman they did't like.
Yesterday morning, the caucus of all House Democrats voted, 160 to 0, to change their rules to make it automatic that a chairman be deposed if he is convicted of a felony or censured by the House. They will use that as an argument to drop the second count of the ethics committee resolution.