Republicans: No Decision On How To Proceed With Starr Report
By John King/CNN
WASHINGTON (March 19) -- House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) issued a joint statement Thursday stressing that no decisions have been made about how to proceed when Independent Counsel Ken Starr concludes his investigation into the Monica Lewinsky controversy.
The statement says three options are being considered: having the Judiciary Committee handle any investigation or hearings; naming a special task force; or naming a select committee. Though not addressed in the statement, GOP sources said Hyde would lead the effort, whichever option is ultimately chosen.
The statement says: "No procedural decisions will be made until and unless Judge Starr makes a referral of information to the House of Representatives."
A grand jury is looking into reports that President Bill Clinton had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, a former White House intern, and encouraged her to lie about it under oath. Clinton has denied both accusations.
A source familiar with the deliberations tells CNN there are no plans for GOP leaders to go to Starr and ask him for a briefing on the investigation.
Democrats have criticized Gingrich and Hyde for beginning preliminary discussions on how to handle the matter and for excluding Democrats from those discussions. Said House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt, "I have not been consulted in this matter, therefore, I question their assertion of wanting to approach the issue in a bipartisan fashion."
But Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the
Judiciary Committee, says Hyde assured him Thursday that Democrats would be consulted. And a GOP leadership source told CNN, "There is nothing really to consult on at the moment," but promised Democrats would be included in any planning for dealing with a report from Starr.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said the House is moving too quickly in its talk of impeachment. The South Dakota Democrat said it was "premature" to lay the groundwork for a possible House review of evidence gathered by Starr.
Daschle told reporters he is not sure what it is the House is preparing for, unless members "have been consulting a lot more carefully with Mr. Starr than I would assume at this point."
Meanwhile, the White House says Republicans could find better things to do than discuss impeachment. White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said, "There is so much on this nation's agenda that the Congress has not directly addressed."
But conservatives aren't shy about questioning the president's candor. In one of the toughest statements against the president to date, Rep. Tom Delay (R-Texas) said on the House floor Thursday, "I implore the president to come forward with the truth."
"If the president would just tell the truth to the american people it would go a long long way to bringing this ordeal to an end. the truth, the truth is the only thing now that can preserve the dignity of the presidency," Delay continued.
Hyde and Gingrich defended their preliminary discussions on grounds they needed to determine how material received from Starr would be handled, including whether documents and other material protected by grand jury secrecy would become public if turned over to Congress.
Their statement said: "The fairness and credibility of any congressional investigation, should it be necessary, is paramount, and thus we intend to proceed in a slow and cautious manner. Our principal concern -- if an investigation is warranted -- is to protect the innocent while simultaneously getting to the truth."
Sources tell CNN that Gingrich is highly sensitive to the election-year politics of investigating a president whose poll numbers are sky high despite allegations of sexual misconduct.
These sources say Gingrich is telling associates the House must be prepared to act, but that he hopes Starr waits until after the November elections to deliver any report. to Congress.