House panel will release Clinton video, Lewinsky testimony
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, September 18) -- Over Democrats' objections, the House Judiciary Committee cleared the way Friday to release President Bill Clinton's videotaped grand jury testimony and 2,800 pages of supporting material, including sexually explicit testimony from Monica Lewinsky.
Lawmakers plan to make public the material as early as 9 a.m. EDT Monday, although that timetable could slip. Staff at the Government Printing Office will work through the weekend to prepare the documents for distribution, and the videotape will be made public simultaneously.
Several Democratic and Republican sources familiar with the materials to be released stress the graphic sexual nature of much of the material. One source said, "It's very revolting." Another said, "It would be hard not to find it disgusting."
The committee, which met all day Thursday, reconvened Friday morning to debate what portions of Lewinsky's testimony to release.
Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Illinois) said the panel decided "to reveal as much as possible, consistent with responsible redactions to protect people whose ... involvement in this was very peripheral."
Hyde said the committee agreed on about 120 redactions, or partial deletions of testimony, and disagreed on about 20 more.
What's in the documents, videotape?
Included in the contents are the transcripts of both Lewinsky's multiple sessions of grand jury testimony and her interviews with Starr's office before and afterwards.
One source called those conversations with prosecutors a "second by second sex novel of every moment of their sexual encounters."
In her verbal testimony, Lewinsky gives her account of phone sex conversations with the president, according to sources.
Another sources tells CNN that during his grand jury testimony, Clinton acknowledges that Lewinsky performed oral sex on him, but denies that act fit the narrow definition of sex given to him by the Paula Jones lawyers because he was not touching Lewinsky.
In addition to Lewinsky and Clinton's testimony, press clippings of every word the president has said about the Lewinsky matter is included in the documents to be released. Also to be made public: pleadings on the dispute over Secret Service testimony; Vernon Jordan's calendars detailing his separate meetings and conversations with both Clinton and Lewinsky; and the waive records listing the comings and goings at the White House of the ex-intern and other people involved in the investigation.
What not in the tapes? Sources say the transcript of Linda Tripp's testimony and the infamous tape recordings she made of conversations with her onetime friend Lewinsky. Those remain in the 17 boxes of material the Judiciary Committee must still dig through over the coming weeks.
Differing definitions of bipartisanshipHyde characterized the debate over the release of the Starr material as "vigorous, spirited but it was civil. I would say the spirit of bipartisanship is alive and flourishing."
But Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts), the second ranking Democrat on the panel, scoffed at that notion and criticized Republicans for keeping the proceedings secret. He said that "virtually every vote" was along party lines.
"They don't think there is enough of a vote for impeachment yet out in the public," Frank said. "So what you have a very one-sided, partisan effort to release material, before the president gets a chance to review it or respond to it, that makes the president look bad."
Members spent almost eight hours Thursday and four hours Friday behind closed doors debating what to make public from the 18 boxes of papers and tapes sent to them by Independent Counsel Ken Starr. Committee members say the documents to be released will include seven volumes of appendices.
The full House made Starr's 445-page report public last week, but asked the Judiciary Committee to go through the supporting materials to see what, if anything, the House should withhold from the public, either because it is too graphic or would hurt the reputation of innocent third parties.
Democrats on the committee argued strenuously that sections of Lewinsky's testimony which are particularly explicit in describing her sexual relations with the president should be edited out.
Lewinsky's attorneys made the same plea to the committee's lawyers earlier this week.
Explicit details, speed of release criticized
Quickly reacting to the committee's decision, White House spokesman Jim Kennedy called the committee action "a rush to judgment, a rush to pre-judgment, and an effort to put out the most salacious and most sexually explicit materials ... It will ultimately be up to the American people to decide whether it's fair or unfair."
Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), the committee's ranking Democrat, agreed. As the only member involved in the Watergate impeachment inquiry, Conyers said material in that case was considered for seven weeks before being made public.
Conyers also warned that the documents about to be released to the public contain parts that are "offensive" and "obscene."
Republicans argue the material is relevant to the public debate because it goes directly to the question of whether Clinton lied under oath when he said his contact with the ex-intern did not meet the definition of sexual relations he was provided for his sworn testimony in the Jones case.
"Some of the material, however, is sexually explicit and I think that's unfortunate," said Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Florida). "But the fact and reality is that we have to do that because of the president's insistence ... of his telling the truth in certain instances where the ... independent counsel said he did not."
The White House complained Friday, though, that Republicans on the panel were overruling their own staff in pushing to release most if not all of the explicit sexual material in those documents.
Aides argue the committee has access to the materials, so committee members can use them to wade through Starr's allegations of perjury and obstruction and justice, but that there is no purpose other than humiliation to release the material to the general public.
Two sides wrangle over fairness of process
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee charged Friday the committee's GOP majority pushed through the release of material from the Starr report without even defining what constitutes an impeachable offense and said the process was designed only to embarrass and humiliate the president.
And the question of what part of material that is sexually graphic can be withheld from public release was not decided in a manner that the Democrats considered appropriate. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) said that the committee had only one vote on 27 different items Democrats suggested should be redacted. He said the vote was along party lines.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) said that she hoped for a release of the transcript and vote record from the closed-door executive session.
Republican members countered that they were acting on the release of the Starr report with a commitment to the Constitution and fairness.
They said that the material that was redacted was much more explicit than the material released on the Internet last Friday. "America, you may have thought you got the details, but you did not get the details at all," said Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Indiana)
Rep. James Rogan (R-California) said House Democrats agreed almost unanimously last week to release all the material produced by Starr's investigators and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee now were objecting to that agreement.
Rogan said he did not think "public opinion should be turned on snippets" from Clinton's videotaped testimony and that if people didn't want to hear the graphic sexual details, they didn't have to watch.
White House worried about release of Clinton tape
White House officials are anxious about the release of the president's August 17 videotaped testimony before the grand jury.
Sources told CNN the tape will show several angry exchanges between Clinton and Starr's prosecutors when the president was questioned about specific sexual details of his relationship with Lewinsky.
That footage could prove yet another embarrassment to Clinton, though White House officials hope they might gain some sympathy as the president could be portrayed as the victim of overzealous prosecutors.
Clinton lawyer David Kendall criticized Starr Thursday for not erasing the tape, which had been recorded for the purpose of allowing grand jurors who missed the live testimony to view it later.
Starr responded later in the day, saying to erase the tape would be to destroy evidence of a crime.
Dispute over the Jones deposition tape
The panel's job became more complicated Thursday when its request to gain access to the videotape of Clinton's January 17 deposition in the Jones sexual harassment case was unexpectedly granted by Judge Susan Webber Wright. Judge Wright agreed to provide the videotape to the committee in a conference call Thursday morning, sources told CNN.
The president gave sworn testimony to Jones lawyers in which he denied a sexual relationship with Lewinsky. That denial is part of the basis for claims the president perjured himself.
While objecting to the its release, Clinton's personal attorney in the Jones case, Bob Bennett, has conceded he has no legal basis to oppose the release of the president's deposition in the civil lawsuit, sources tell CNN.
Three sources who participated in a telephone call with Judge Wright Thursday said that claims by Democrats that Clinton's attorneys can appeal the judges's decision to release the tape of his January 17 deposition are "absolutely false."
The sources on all sides of the conversation tell CNN that when the judge sought comment from Bennett he told her he "could not argue any law," to oppose the decision to release the tape although he did raise concerns that the tape would be made "part of the spectacle."
Nevertheless, Wright decided to agree to a request for the tape from Judiciary Committee and plans to send the tape, most likely in the next few days.
Committee Democrats are planning, sources told CNN, to send a letter to the judge Friday morning complaining they were not informed of the request. But, some Democrats acknowledge, that as a point of law they do not have a strong case and do not believe they will prevent release of the tape. Quoting one Democrat, "I'm not sure we have standing here."
Some Democrats on the Judiciary Committee said they were sending a letter to Judge Wright objecting to the tape being sent to them. A Democratic congressional source told CNN that they did not know that Hyde had asked Wright for the tape until Conyers was given a copy of Hyde's September 15 letter to Wright late Thursday.
CNN's Bob Franken and John King contributed to this report.
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Transcript: Judiciary Committee members on decision to release Clinton videotape, Starr documents
Transcript: Democratic Judiciary Committee members on Starr material release