By Lloyd Grove
1. Does anyone hear a shattering sound?
2. Is the House of Representatives made of glass?
"It's as if we're all in a Southern Baptist church service on national television, and everybody is suddenly being asked to confess every sin they ever committed in their life," said Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.), a fervent critic of Clinton. "And it isn't just what you've done. It's what people allege you've done."
As they wrestled with the noisome issues of Monica Lewinsky and impeachable offenses, GOP House members have also been dodging shards. These jagged bits have come in the form of headlines about the extramarital affairs of Reps. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho) and -- this week in the on-line magazine Salon -- House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), one of the body's most venerated statesmen.
The baring of Hyde's "youthful indiscretion," as the chairman called his long-ago involvement with another man's wife, was a signal that, in the current environment, no one is safe. The most intimate aspects of the president's sex life are up for public discussion because the Republican-run House voted to put them out. Now the usual standards of political battle no longer apply. No dirt, apparently, is too loathsome to dig up and dish.
"Where is this going to end?" asked Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), a member of Hyde's committee. "In my case, I'm not concerned, because my life is very boring," maintained Inglis, who sleeps in his congressional office.
He added, however, that Republicans with more interesting lives might be justifiably apprehensive. "I think there's a real sense that we are dealing with a White House that is interested only in retaining power," Inglis claimed, offering no evidence that the White House is to blame for any of the exposes.
Earlier this week, before the Salon story appeared, Hyde alerted his committee in a memo that any effort to intimidate or interfere with members of Congress discharging their official duties "could constitute a violation of federal criminal law."
"I request that you immediately notify me if you learn of any activity or information relating to this concern," Hyde wrote, adding that the committee would swiftly investigate and refer allegations to the Justice Department.
"If somebody tries to mess around with my family and my friends and intimidate me to keep me from doing my job, they're going to have a fight on their hands," said committee member Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a former state prosecutor. "If I found out about it, I would do everything I could to put their ass in jail."
Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, a senior committee Republican, said he's told his immediate family and his neighbors in Arlington to be on the lookout for suspicious types snooping into his personal life.
"I don't think there's any paranoia, at least as far as members of the Judiciary Committee go, but they have the biggest job of their careers to do," Sensenbrenner said. "You can't be paranoid about everybody you make angry in one of these jobs."
He added: "There are standards of decency. I come from the state that elected Joe McCarthy to the Senate. He embarrassed our state, he disgraced himself. . . . I hope we're not seeing a resurgence of McCarthyism."
Many Republicans interpreted a recent warning from the president's brother, Roger, on CNN's "Larry King Live," as a bare-knuckled threat in the spirit of Tailgunner Joe. "There are some of the political people that had best watch themselves because of the old glass-house story," the younger Clinton said on Aug. 27. "Be very careful -- I'm just issuing a statement."
"They're worried," Rep. Souder said about his colleagues. "But they're not worried so much that they aren't going to do what's right."
"You've got to keep your focus," said Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.). "It's distressing, but we have a job to do. . . . The people on the committee did not ask for this responsibility, and it's troubling if they want to come after you."
Judiciary Committee member Rep. Charles Canady (R-Fla.) put up a brave front.
"Any attempt to intimidate members of the Judiciary Committee will be unsuccessful," he said dismissively. "If people want to go through my garbage, they're going to get their hands dirty."
Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), who introduced an impeachment resolution last year, months before the sex scandal erupted, sidestepped the question of whether he's concerned. Barr's two divorces have frequently come under fire in his election campaigns, and so has a 1992 charity luncheon at which he licked "whipped cream from the chests of two buxom women," as a Georgia newspaper put it.
"It's not the sort of thing you like to have happen," Barr said with uncharacteristic restraint about the Hyde headlines. "If there's any orchestration, or any attempt to intimidate or obstruct the committee in its legitimate functions, it's a violation of the law."
Yesterday the House GOP asked the FBI to investigate.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Tex.) was downright combative when asked if any of his troops were nervous.
"No," Armey insisted. "I haven't talked to any worried Republicans. But I've seen a lot of worried Democrats."
"Everyone -- not just Republicans but also Democrats -- is worried about what's going on," said a White House official who asked not to be named. "This really has the atmosphere of the Salem witchcraft trials or the Spanish Inquisition -- maybe a mix between the two."
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