By Juliet Eilperin and Dan Morgan
The House Judiciary Committee yesterday ended two days of partisan skirmishing behind closed doors with majority approval of the release of President Clinton's videotaped grand jury testimony in the Monica S. Lewinsky case, along with 2,800 pages of documents containing substantial amounts of sexually explicit material.
All of the material is scheduled to be made available at 9 a.m. Monday, when copies of the documents, printed by the Government Printing Office, are to be handed to the committee and other lawmakers, after which the information will be posted on the Internet. Sources said the documents -- appendices to the report on the Lewinsky investigation presented to the House last week by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr -- include graphic, and as yet unpublished, portions of Lewinsky's testimony about her Oval Office trysts with Clinton.
The House radio and television gallery will feed television networks the four-hour videotape of Clinton's Aug. 17 grand jury testimony, during which he was questioned by Starr and aides.
White House spokesman James Kennedy denounced the committee's action as "a rush to prejudgment and an effort to get out the most salacious material at the speed of light, not at the proper pace of justice."
But Republicans countered that they were putting the information out so the public could make the most-informed judgment possible as to whether Congress should proceed with an impeachment inquiry. Several Republicans said yesterday that they expect the Judiciary Committee to vote during the first week of October on whether to seek House approval to conduct such a formal inquiry.
While Republicans stressed their commitment to fairness in the unfolding proceedings, it was clear that the fast-moving events, and a growing sense among Democrats that the Republican leadership has no intention of applying the brakes, had sharpened partisan tensions.
That in turn has raised questions about the GOP's ability to muster broad-based Democratic support for further steps against a president who still commands a high job performance rating with the American public.
Committee members spent much of their time deliberating over what should be deleted from the documents, with Democrats losing most of their proposals to keep certain material out of public view.
In a tense exchange before reporters after ending the meeting ended yesterday, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), the committee's second-ranking Democratic member, said: "If this is bipartisanship, then the Taliban [the extremist Islamic movement that controls Afghanistan] wins a medal for religious tolerance. . . . The Republican majority has decided that it's important for them to make the president less firmly involved with the people than he is. They don't think there's enough of a vote for impeachment yet out in the public."
Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) responded: "Well, I don't think things were as dismal as Barney portrayed them. We accomplished a lot, we had vigorous, spirited debate, but it was civil. I would say the spirit of bipartisanship is alive and flourishing. There was a general view among the Democrats not to reveal anything, and there was a general view among Republicans to reveal as much as possible consistent with responsible redactions to protect people whose names and vital statistics and involvement in this was very peripheral. We did that."
Frank retorted: "I just want to say this is a new concept, unfortunately, of unilateral bipartisanship."
Sources said that the documents covered by the committee's action included statements by Lewinsky to the FBI and grand jury, some of her letters and e-mail, Secret Service records relating to the president's and Lewinsky's movements on certain days, a chart detailing Lewinsky's trips to the White House and public events, memos, telephone records, White House logs and news clippings.
Before convening the committee Thursday, Hyde and ranking Democrat John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) had agreed to 155 deletions in the printed material, under guidelines aimed at protecting the privacy of innocent third parties, removing redundant or irrelevant sexual references and striking material being used in ongoing criminal cases, and anything relating to official duties of the Secret Service.
But GOP members, who outnumber Democrats on the committee 21 to 16, rejected an attempt by the minority to delete 25 additional references, according to committee records. Among these were more explicit material relating to sexual interaction between Clinton and Lewinsky, the manner in which Clinton undressed her, and details about their telephone sex, according to sources in both parties.
Other Democratic motions were repeatedly defeated on straight party-line votes, and in a final rebuff, GOP members rejected a Democratic move to allow the transcript of the committee hearings to be made public.
Republicans on the committee approved, 20 to 16, a motion by Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) to restore three deleted references to a cigar in Lewinsky's sworn testimony to the grand jury, according to information provided by the committee and other sources. One Republican, Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) joined the Democrats in opposing the Barr motions.
Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.) said the release of sexually explicit material was necessary because of the president's insistence that he did not commit perjury when he denied in a sworn deposition that he had sex with Lewinsky. Barr agreed, telling reporters: "It's extremely relevant. We were forced to do this by the president's own words."
Republican sources said that material related, for example, to Lewinsky's orgasms, was left in specifically to address the question of whether Clinton aimed to arouse Lewinsky -- a key component of the definition of sexual relations at testimony by Clinton in the sexual harassment suit brought against him by Paula Jones.
In his report to Congress, Starr contended that Clinton's perjury on that point was one ground for impeachment.
Nonetheless, Republicans acknowledged there were risks in continuing to disgorge more lurid details of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, beyond the vivid descriptions already made public as part of Starr's Sept. 9 report to the House. "Nobody can ever predict how the public will react to a decision," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), a Judiciary Committee member.
One sign of GOP nervousness came after Judiciary Committee Republican Bob Inglis (S.C.) proposed that the generic description of one deleted item -- which was not included in Starr's published report -- be changed to indicate more specifically the form of sexual contact that it dealt with. Only five other Republican members, Barr, Ed Bryant (Tenn.), Edward A. Pease (Ind.), James E. Rogan (Calif.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) joined Inglis in pushing for the disclosure. The tally defeating the motion was 28 to 6, according to the committee.
"My view is that full disclosure is the best approach," said Inglis, who is battling to unseat Democrat Ernest F. Hollings in his state's Senate race this fall. "In a democracy, people have a right to know that government and its operations are open."
Inglis noted that several prominent House Democrats have also called for release of all the materials.
Within the House, the Judiciary Committee has a reputation for a higher level of partisanship than almost any other committee. "It handles the hot-button issues and it attracts the hot-button members," said one Democrat.
The sharply divergent approach was evident in the initial hours of the committee's deliberations Thursday, when two Democrats, Reps. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) and Sheila Jackson Lee (Tex.), offered a motion calling on the committee to define its standards for presidential abuse of power.
Democrats spoke at length about their vision of the Constitution, according to sources, while most Republicans remained silent and left it to Hyde to counter Democratic points.
The Republicans "said nothing. They've got the votes," said one committee member who asked not to be identified. "Until it got to smut, they were relatively silent."
Rep. Charles T. Canady (R-Fla.) said, however, that Republicans simply saw no point in debating constitutional issues when they were charged with the immediate task of determining what part of Starr's evidence to release.
"I don't believe we can give the Democrats on the committee a veto on the actions of the majority," he said.
Conyers set the tone for the Democrats immediately after the committee meeting, telling reporters that "the Constitution has not been served" and accusing committee Republicans of rank partisanship.
"We've dumped process and fairness on its head," he said. "And we've released material without hardly having an opportunity to take out the offensive parts, the parts that would injure people, the parts that are unfair."
He called the information sexually explicit, offensive and obscene.
Republicans expressed surprise at the Democrats' outrage, suggesting, as Hutchinson said, that "the rancor started as the meeting ended. The partisan rancor began at the news conference."
Added F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.): "The Democrats turned their anger button on when they walked out for their press conferences."
Despite the rancorous aftermath, committee members in both parties said the meeting itself was cordial, albeit with several impassioned exchanges. "It was a typical Judiciary Committee meeting," Hutchinson said. "I sort of thought people would make shorter speeches in executive [closed] session, but I was wrong."
"I don't think it would be fair to call it nasty," agreed Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.). He praised Hyde for conducting the hearing "in a fair fashion." But he added, "Unfortunately that doesn't change the result."
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