Senate Democrats sharply criticized deputy budget director Joseph R. Wright Jr. yesterday for interceding with the Energy Department on behalf of an oil company in which he owns stock worth up to $250,000 and which is headed by his father.
"It appears that there is very clearly an ethical question and a considerable bit more," Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.) said.
"It appears very clear to me that there was a 'high-level Washington intervention' to influence cases pending before the Department of Energy," the senator said.
Wright, the subject of four federal investigations, answered questions before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee about a 1982 telephone call he made to the Energy Department regarding Anchor Gasoline Corp. of Tulsa.
Before the call, the Energy Department was seeking $16 million in overcharges for alleged violations of price-control laws. The department has taken no action in the case.
Wright, the No. 2 man at the Office of Management and Budget and chairman of the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, denied any wrongdoing.
"My involvement in this matter was brief and undertaken in good faith," Wright said in sworn testimony.
"I made a telephone call and during that call made clear that the matter needed to be handled properly and without favoritism," he said. "To suggest anything different would be dead wrong."
Wright said he made the call to set up a meeting between Anchor officials and Energy Department officials to try and settle the case.
"It is possible to believe that Mr. Wright is telling the truth and still have a damning case against him," Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) said.
"I think he clearly created the appearance of a very serious conflict of interest and that, in and of itself, is a violation of law," Gore said after the hearing, "and I think he has to be extremely naive to think what effect that his call would be when he made it."