WASHINGTON -- On the eve of robert L. Clarke's confirmation hearing, Senate Democrats continued to raise questions about his handling of the Bank of New England Failure.

The Senate Banking Committee hearing is scheduled for today, and Mr. Clarke's nomination for a second term as comptroller of the currency is widely believed to be in jeopardy.

Sen. Timothy Wirth, D-Colo., wants Mr. Clarke to disclose the names and other confidential data about seven big borrowers who failed to repay $227 million in loans to the failed Boston bank.

Some who defend Mr. Clarke accuse Sen. Wirth of being on a "fishing expedition" to determine whether any of the borrowers were Republicans. Mr. Wirth denies this is the case.

"Sen. Wirth is concerned with what caused the failure of Bank of New England," said one of his aides.

He said Mr. Wirth is promoting legislation that would mandate public release of examination reports of failed thrifts and banks that require the use of taxpayer funds for resolution. He also is demanding the names of insiders who received loans that violated banking laws.

Senate Banking committee Chairman Donald W. Riegle, D-Mich., made a similar request several months ago. his staff was allowed to see the names of the borrowers, said Leonora Cross, a spokesman for the Comptroller.

Strings Attached

Mr. Clarke has refused to release the names unless he is served with a subpoena. But Mr. Wirth has an open invitation to look at the names if he promises to keep them to himself, said Ms. Cross.

"You all continue to stone-wall," Mr. Wirth said Tuesday during a Senate hearing on William Taylor's nomination as chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance corp. "Maybe you've got something to hide."

"He is equating [BNE's failure] to Lincoln" Savings and Loan Association, said a source close to the Comptroller's office, referring to the scandal-plagued California thrift owned by Charles Keating.

Five senators, including Mr. Riegle, had their reputations tarnished when they attempted to run interference for Mr. Keating against federal regulators. All of the "Keating Five" except Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., have been exonerated by the Senate Ethics Committee.

In his letter to Mr. Clarke, Mr. Wirth said insider loans at BNE have already caused about $30 million in losses and could grow to $185 million.

"The taxpayer is now subject to risk of loss on those insider loans, $100 million of which are in default. I believe the taxpayer is entitled to know who has been the beneficiary of these loans."

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