A House subcommittee yesterday remained at odds with the White House over access to 1980 Reagan campaign documents, while a Republican member of the panel said the Democrats are pushing their investigation far beyond the subcommittee's jurisdiction.
Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.), one of two Republicans on the six-member Post Office and Civil Service subcommittee on human resources, said at a session of the panel that the minority staff has not been kept informed of the investigation's progress.
Gilman said the Justice Department should handle the probe of how Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign obtained documents and information from the Carter White House, and that the subcommittee should limit its inquiry to possible changes in federal ethics laws.
"There is a serious question of the authority of our subcommittee in this matter," Gilman told subcommittee Chairman Donald J. Albosta (D-Mich.). "We do not have prosecutorial authority under the Ethics in Government Act . . . . If there is any evidence of violation, those matters properly rest within the jurisdiction of the Justice Department."
"This has been a partisan effort," Gilman said in an interview. "I don't think it warrants the kind of fishing expedition that the chairman is engaging in." He said he hoped Albosta now would consult fully with the Republican subcommittee members.
Gilman's criticism suggested that Albosta may have less than full bipartisan support for his investigation into the 1980 Carter documents, an inquiry that House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) initially said was not needed.
Albosta's subcommittee normally would not handle such a major investigation, but the farmer from St. Charles, Mich., has said he has clear jurisdiction to look into the matter as a federal ethics issue and that he will refer any evidence of criminal wrongdoing to the Justice Department.
Despite Gilman's criticism, the panel yesterday informally approved guidelines for the investigation, drawn up by Albosta's staff, that spell out the subcommittee's jurisdiction.
A spokesman for Albosta who declined to be identified said the Republican subcommittee staff workers were kept apprised of the probe at three meetings last week and had been invited to sit in on interviews of former Carter and Reagan campaign officials.
"Gilman seems to want to limit this to the point where it's not an investigation but simply a legislative hearing," the spokesman said.
"I don't know what his problem is. We've got to look at the facts" surrounding the Carter documents "to determine what the ethical considerations are."
The spokesman acknowledged that other members of the subcommittee have had to follow the probe by reading Albosta's interviews in the press, but he said this was because events were moving so quickly and members of Congress were out of town for the July 4 recess.
The subcommittee now is working with James Hamilton, who was assistant chief counsel to the Senate Watergate committee. One of Hamilton's first acts was to call White House counsel Fred F. Fielding to try to resolve a dispute over the subcommittee's access to Reagan campaign documents stored at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Hoover's acting archivist, Charles Palm, said he met yesterday with FBI agent Keith Berry to discuss the Justice Department's plans to examine the Reagan campaign files.
Palm said the FBI was considering bringing in a team of agents to peruse the 550 linear feet of campaign material, but that there was no discussion of providing similar access for Albosta's investigators.
"Mr. Albosta doesn't want to get things secondhand," the congressman's spokesman said. "He's still concerned that we won't have firsthand access to the files. We're waiting for a compromise position" from the White House.
The spokesman said that, contrary to suggestions by some administration officials, Albosta has no desire to look at Reagan contribution lists or other proprietary information. A spokesman for the Justice Department, which discussed the matter with Albosta yesterday, said he expects a compromise.
Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.), talking with reporters outside the White House, cautioned that Albosta's inquiry should not become "a non-focused fishing expedition."
"We're not going to turn this into a total examination of every document of every campaign," Baker said. "If that's the case, then somebody ought to take a look maybe at the Carter papers at the same time . . . .
"There ought to be a specific inquiry on the briefing book episode," Baker said. " . . . This should not be a license to get into every file of every presidential candidate . . . . "