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Amid Partisan Sniping, Committee OK's Travelgate Report

Travelgate

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Sept. 18) -- After a Democratic walkout, a Republican-led House committee approved a report which concludes the president and the first lady condoned a plan to fire seven longtime travel office employees, and to replace them with political cronies.

It's what Republicans have been asserting all along in the longstanding travel office inquiry, a.k.a. "Travelgate."

The House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, led by Chairman Rep. William Clinger (R-Pa.), has been investigating Travelgate for two years. Though dismissed by the administration and congressional Democrats as a political witch hunt, the committee concluded that the Clintons, on the urging of Hollywood producer Harry Thomason, ordered the travel workers fired in 1993 to turn the profitable contract over to Clinton associates.

Few have disputed the administration's prerogative to replace the travel staff. But Republicans charged the White House misused the FBI to manufacture false criminal charges against former travel director Billy Dale and his six colleagues, who later were quickly acquitted in court. When the scheme unraveled, Republicans say, White House aides engaged in "a colossal damage-control effort" to obscure Bill and Hillary Clinton's roles in the firings, laying the blame on former aide David Watkins.

"President Clinton has engaged in an unprecedented misuse of the executive power, abuse of executive privilege and obstruction of numerous investigations into the Travel Office matter," Clinger said in an opening statement.

In excerpts released to the media, Hillary Rodham Clinton is described as "acting on Thomason's baseless allegations of wrongdoing ... (and) asserted pressure on senior White House staff to fire the travel office employees." Republicans say she later managed the handling of Travelgate documents, which she has denied.

Former chief of staff Mack McLarty, the report states, approved the dismissals and then, inappropriately, was put in charge of an internal review of the matter.

The White House attorney charged with responding to Travelgate and Whitewater matters, Mark Fabiani, promptly shot back, "Today's McCarthy-like charges by the Newt Gingrich-led Republicans are as meaningless as they are political."

Henry Waxman

Ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) followed Clinger and called the report "an embarrassment to you (Clinger), this committee and this Congress" and "a crassly partisan smear campaign against President Clinton, Mrs. Clinton and this administration."

Before the vote, Waxman and other committee Democrats, stormed out. They plan to release a minority report stating their views of the affair. Later, Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.) said the Travelgate report mirrors the partisan atmosphere of the 104th Congress. "Like horses, we should take it out and shoot it," he told The Associated Press.

The committee has not yet released copies of the report; however, drafts were obtained by CNN earlier this week.

"The administration may have severely damaged the credibility and prestige of the White House," the draft report reads. "It frustrated all investigations, it turned the Office of White House Counsel into a political damage-control operation, it made frivolous claims of executive privilege, it abused its power to smear innocent citizens, and most important, it failed to level with the American [people].

"As a result, it is the committee's view that the White House stands in contempt of its own constitutional responsibilities to faithfully uphold and execute the Constitution and laws of the nation."


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