By Juliet Eilperin
Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), furious over a GOP decision to allocate $1.3 million to the Judiciary Committee from a special House reserve fund, took to the House floor Tuesday to accuse Republicans of initiating "an impeachment investigation without any notice to the Congress, to the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee or to the American people, without a vote from the House of Representatives."
Firing back, Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) told reporters yesterday that he had kept Conyers informed of his plans for the additional $1.3 million.
"I don't know how you cope with people who don't remember the truth," he said.
Though Hyde initially requested the additional funds in December to help conduct the first reauthorization of the Justice Department in nearly two decades, he has said in recent weeks that the money could be used to hire investigators in the event that Starr issues a report to Congress on the president.
By late yesterday afternoon, however, House Oversight Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) pledged that if the House decides to begin impeachment proceedings, "that funding will not come through the reserve fund structure."
That explanation failed to satisfy House Democrats.
"Any taxpayer funds being used to prepare for impeachment proceedings is a purely partisan attempt to kowtow to the conservative base of the Republican Party," Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said yesterday. "And to dip into a slush fund that requires no vote of the House makes the funding of such even more unseemly. My fear is that the Republican leadership is steering the House directly into a partisan confrontation on the issue of impeachment."
Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) did not help matters yesterday when he suggested that the funding would help the House respond to Starr's probe. "The fact is we know Judge Starr will be sending us a report, and we don't know what will be in that report, and we want to be able to address that," he said. But Armey later told reporters to "scratch that," adding, "If you like, just say I was a dutiful rat, and I took the bait."
The House leadership is considering creating a special panel to review any information Starr refers to Congress to determine whether it merits impeachment proceedings. But Christina Martin, spokeswoman for House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), said, "No decision will be made until Judge Starr makes a referral to the Hill."
The GOP, however, has taken some steps to prepare for a possible impeachment proceeding, including asking the Judiciary Committee's newest member, Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Calif.), to review past probes of the executive branch. "It's basically meant to replicate what works and not repeat mistakes," Martin said.
According to Judiciary Committee member Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the partisan fighting reflects the GOP's fear that any impeachment probe could backfire on them. "It's a terrible political problem and they don't know what to do with it, and they get mad at us because we point this out," he said.
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