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Launching the Iran probes. Senators gear up for full-scale inquiry

Democratic and Republican leaders in the United States Senate have all but decided to establish a select Senate committee to investigate covert sales of arms to Iran and the diversion of profits from those sales to the Nicaraguan contras. But politics has complicated the process of setting up the special committee. Individual Senate members are jockeying for membership, mindful of the national news media coverage they would receive as panel members. They have sought out their leaders to inform them of their availability. The special, Watergate-style committee is expected to include no more than 11 senators.

``We've had lots of applicants,'' outgoing Senate majority leader Robert Dole (R) of Kansas comments dryly. ``We'll take a look at their r'esum'es.''

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Even though a special House committee might also be set up to investigate the Iran-contra affair, only the Senate would be called into special session next week by the President, if he decides he wants a committee established before January.

The House could establish its panel after the new Congress convenes Jan. 6. An array of House and Senate committees have jurisdiction over some aspect of the government that has been affected by the Iran-contra aid imbroglio. Members of most of those committees have expressed interest in holding their own separate inquiries into the matter.

The result, it is widely agreed, would be chaos: thus, the special committees.

Chairmen of House committees that would claim partial jurisdiction over the affair are vying to chair the House special committee. The Senate has not been a model of cooperation, either. Even as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence continued its hearings into the case, Republicans and Democrats were locked in a tussle over whether or not President Reagan should call Congress back into town next week to establish a special committee, or committees.

Democrats do not want such a session. They say it is unnecessary because a special committee would not be able start its work until the new Congress convened. The Republicans argue that the groundwork for the committee, such as hiring staff, must be laid immediately if the committee is to hit the ground running in January. They hint that they will press the President to recall Congress if the Democrats do not agree immediately to begin setting up the special committee.

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