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Investigating The President

House to vote Friday on Internet release of Starr report

Rules Committee rebuffs attempt to give Clinton advance copy

In this story:

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Sept. 10) -- After beating back an attempt to let President Bill Clinton have advance access to a critical report by Independent Counsel Ken Starr, the House Rules Committee late Thursday approved a resolution to release portions of the report on the Internet Friday afternoon.

The full House is expected vote on the resolution Friday morning. If it is approved, as expected, the first 445 pages of the report will be made public by mid to late afternoon.

About 18 boxes of supporting materials will be reviewed and edited by the Judiciary Committee within the next two weeks prior to public release. Overseeing that process will be the committee's chairman, Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), and its ranking Democrat, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.)

Hyde
Rep. Henry Hyde

The report, which was transmitted to the House Wednesday, outlines Starr's case that there is substantial and credible evidence that Clinton committed impeachable offenses in connection with the Monica Lewinsky controversy.

Before the Rules Committee took its final vote, Rep. Tony Hall (D-Ohio) tried to amend the resolution to give the report to the White House 48 hours before it is made public, which would have delayed its release until Sunday.

"I think this is fair. I think this is reasonable," Hall said of his proposal.

Solomon
Rep. Gerald Solomon

But Rules Committee Chairman Gerald Solomon (R-N.Y.), in urging the committee to defeat the amendment, told Hall that "a majority of the Congress does not agree with you."

"The president already has this information," Solomon said. The amendment failed on a partisan 8 to 4 vote.

Solomon said that under House rules, the resolution cannot be amended when it gets to the floor, which means that the battle to give Clinton advance access is likely over. House members must either vote the resolution up or down.

Hyde: 'I won't condone political witchhunt'

In remarks before the Rules Committee, Hyde cautioned that no one should assume that the report contains evidence of impeachable offenses or that the Judiciary Committee's activities mean an impeachment inquiry has been initiated.

"At this stage we don't know what information the independent counsel has sent to the House, but given the gravity of the situation, we must act now," Hyde said.

"I won't condone or participate in a political witchhunt. If the evidence does not justify a full impeachment investigation, I won't recommend one to the House. However if the evidence does justify an inquiry, I will unhesitatingly recommend a fuller inquiry."

Both Hyde and Conyers praised the bipartisan nature of the proceeding, but Conyers complained that the Rules Committee's decision not to give Clinton's legal team an advance copy of the report was "a breach of fairness."

Gingrich
House Speaker Newt Gingrich

"I urge my colleges with the greatest sincerity ... that to tell the president of the United States that he can find out what the charges are on the Internet seems to me to forget the -- I don't call it generosity -- that was given the speaker of the House before the Ethics Committee in which he got seven days to respond," Conyers said.

He was referring to charges that House Speaker Newt Gingrich used tax-deductible donations to fund two college courses designed to further his political goals.

Wider access to sensitive materials

The committee also had a heated partisan debate when it was revealed that the Rules Committee's resolution violated an agreement between Gingrich and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt that would have allowed only Hyde and Conyers to review the sensitive materials outside of the original 445 pages.

Although Solomon said "we are in uncharted waters," he also claimed that the deviation from the bipartisan agreement follows a precedent set in the Watergate inquiry.

"The resolution before us will enable the House through the deliberations of the House Judiciary Committee to responsibly review this important material and to discharge its duty, particularly with respect to the availability of the contents of this communication to the public and the media." Solomon said. "This is a very grave day for the House of Representatives. Indeed it is a solemn time for our nation."

The initial release of the report on the Internet would include a 25-page introduction, a 280-page narrative and a 140-page section on Starr's rationale or grounds for impeachment, Hyde said.

"The House will -- we believe -- pass the resolution. We will immediately disperse the initial introduction, the narrative and the grounds. That gives everyone a lot of information for the weekend," Hyde told reporters. "Those parts ... will be immediately assembled and disseminated to the press and to the people through the Internet."

House Speaker Newt Gingrich told CNN's Frank Sesno Thursday that the report would be available on the Library of Congress' Thomas Web site (Thomas.loc.gov/icreport). It will also be available on the House's Web site (http://www.house.gov/icreport).

Clinton's team makes unfruitful trip to Hill

A last-ditch effort by Clinton's legal team Thursday afternoon to delay the release of Starr's report to Congress was rebuffed, CNN has learned.

Clinton's private attorney, David Kendall, met with Hyde and Conyers to ask for a three-day delay in the public release of portions of Starr's report, sources said. But White House press secretary Mike McCurry would only confirm they were seeking prior access to the report.

Kendall
Clinton attorney David Kendall  

Kendall was accompanied by White House counsel Charles Ruff and White House Deputy Chief of Staff John Podesta. The president's team would like the opportunity to present a rebuttal to the independent counsel's findings simultaneous to the report's public release.

After the meeting, Kendall and Ruff told reporters it was a "cordial" session and the White House was cooperating fully with the committee.

"This was just an initial, very cordial meeting about procedures and other matters of common concern," Kendall said. "The referral by prosecutors is simply a collection of contentions, claims and allegations, and we look forward to the chance to rebut them."

But a Democratic source who was briefed about the session said Kendall and Ruff asked Hyde for 48 hours to view the report, but the chairman declined the request.

Kendall and Ruff eventually asked for the report an hour in advance, but again were told no, the source said.

Clinton's lawyers also sought, according to the source, to clarify what rights and privileges the president's team would have during the "committee process."

Specifically, they wanted assurances they would be included at closed door meetings and depositions. Democrats say such privileges were afforded President Richard Nixon's lawyers during the Watergate impeachment inquiry.

A Democratic source said Hyde gave no such assurances or guarantees, but neither did he say no.

Another source had told CNN that Republicans were firmly against giving the White House access to the Starr report prior to its public release.

Gephardt
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt  

"They don't want to give the White House spinmasters 24, 48 hours to manipulate this," the source said.

Publicly, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt had said he and other Democrats in the House believe Clinton should have been given the opportunity to see the information before its release.

"There's a deep feeling in the (Democratic) caucus that the president ... has the right to see the material for some period of time before it's released to the public," he said.

Four grounds detailed for impeachment

Although White House aides and advisers say they plan to mount an aggressive push designed to persuade the American people -- and the House -- that Clinton's conduct does not warrant impeachment, two sources familiar with Starr's report say the document outlines a case for impeaching Clinton on four grounds: perjury, obstruction of justice, witness- tampering and abuse of power.

The detailed narrative alleges that Clinton lied under oath twice: first in his January testimony in the Paula Jones civil lawsuit and then again last month in his videotaped testimony at the White House to Starr's grand jury, the sources say.

The report cites testimony about the president's conversations with a number of witnesses in the Starr investigation, including Lewinsky and White House secretary Betty Currie.

Starr alleges these conversations amount to witness-tampering and obstruction of justice by hiding evidence and giving misleading accounts to Jones' lawyers.

One of the sources also said Clinton's account of his conversations with Currie about retrieving gifts from Lewinsky "does not match" with other accounts. The source would not elaborate on the specifics of the discrepancy.

The report also claims Clinton abused his powers as president by using the official White House staff and services to deny the president had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, and to mount a public relations effort to smear Starr's investigators and stall their investigation.

It also cites White House invocations of executive and attorney-client privilege as what Starr considers "abuses of power," the sources said.

McCurry on Thursday reminded reporters, "This is the prosecutors case," and said the president's lawyers would have a rebuttal once they were allowed to study the report.

GOP, Democrats at odds over Judiciary procedures

The House Judiciary Committee will study the report, trying to decide how to examine and evaluate a document that could lead to articles of impeachment. A Democratic source said there are "serious differences of opinion" within the committee over how to proceed.

A Democratic source said a meeting held Wednesday to formulate the rules was "unproductive" and Republicans and Democrats were "at loggerheads" over subpoena, privilege and access issues. Meetings thus far have mostly been at the staff level, although lawmakers do attend parts of the sessions.

Hyde wants unilateral subpoena power, the ability to suspend privileges such as spousal privilege and attorney-client privilege and control of access to nonpublic documents, the source said.

"I'm sure Henry would be a benevolent dictator, but that's not how democracy works," the source said.

One of the first tasks the committee will undertake involves reviewing the more personal information and determining whether some of it should be deleted, such as "people who are not involved."

Hyde said the independent counsel had written Gingrich urging the House not to release six specific binders of information until they had been reviewed thoroughly.

"(Starr) said many of the supporting materials ... contain information of a personal nature, and I respectfully urge the House to treat (that) as confidential," Hyde said.

The review process will take about a week to 10 days, he said.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer, John King, Candy Crowley, Bob Franken and Ann Curley contributed to this report.



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Thursday September 10, 1998

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