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Partisan Battle Continues Over Gingrich Matter

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Jan. 15) -- As the political warfare stemming from House Speaker Newt Gingrich's ethics case escalated, sources close to independent counsel James Cole predicted his role in upcoming hearings might be limited.

Nancy Johnson

Jan. 21 is the deadline to complete the Gingrich ethics probe, and ethics committee chairwoman Nancy Johnson gave Cole until Thursday to complete his report after she abruptly called off five days of public hearings originally scheduled for this week.

Now Cole, reputed to be a careful investigator, has indicated he may not have time to prepare the elaborate presentation of the speaker's case that many Democrats were hoping for.

At a ceremony today to mark Mexico's repayment of U.S. loans, President Bill Clinton said it's time to bring the ethics case to a close. (288K AIFF or WAV sound)

"I want it to be over," Clinton said. "I want it to be over. You know, the American people have given us larger responsibilities. I think, in general, at least in my experience here....way too much time and energy and effort are spent on all these things, leaving too little time and emotional energy for the work of the people. So that's what I think. I want it be over. Do whatever is appropriate, get on with it, put it behind us and go on."

In another development, ethics committee member David Hobson (R-Ohio) has agreed to recuse himself from the Gingrich case. Having a Republican member step aside was a key demand of Democrat Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who recused himself from the panel Tuesday. That will mean instead of a 5-5 equal split, the committee will be down to 4-4. The even count is traditional with the committee in an attempt to avoid partisanship.

Hobson's decision took some by surprise, since he has been a member of the committee throughout its Gingrich investigation. There was widespread speculation that a brand-new member, Lamar Smith (R-Texas), would be the Republican to step aside. A statement from Hobson's office is expected this afternoon.

Meanwhile, House Republicans have maintained their offensive against McDermott over the revelations he accepted an apparently illegal, intercepted recording of a cellular phone conversation between the speaker and his GOP allies.

Jim McDermott

Gingrich, who is under agreement not to discuss the case, told ABC-TV today that McDermott "should do what his conscience dictates [but] ... certainly members of Congress shouldn't break the law."

A key Gingrich ally, Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.), demanded that Democrats "ferret out" whether McDermott was responsible for leaking the contents of the tape to news sources, and he suggested the episode could justify Republicans voting for a lighter punishment for Gingrich, who has acknowledged ethics violations.

In rebuttal, House Democratic leader Vic Fazio (D-Calif.) said, "I don't see a connection." And he launched a counter-offensive, saying Democrats would seek a resolution condemning Chairwoman Johnson for canceling this week's scheduled hearings on the speaker.

Johnson answered, "I will not allow angry partisanship to divert the committee from its job of providing the public and the Congress with complete information in the Gingrich case."

McDermott won't say whether he leaked the contents of the tape, and instead called Johnson's actions "the last straw in a two-year reign that has been arbitrary, authoritarian and autocratic."

Meanwhile, the FBI announced it was looking into "possible illegal telephone interception and the subsequent dissemination of the contents of the telephone call."


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