Committee Weighs Its Next Release
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 24, 1998; Page A01
There are tens of thousands of pages left. There are raw FBI files and grand jury transcripts of testimony by Vernon E. Jordan Jr., Betty Currie and Secret Service agents. The Linda Tripp tapes are there, but Monica S. Lewinsky's fabled blue dress is not.
House Judiciary Committee staff members are still reading, and have already made hundreds of proposed redactions to the remaining material from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation of President Clinton's involvement with Lewinsky.
On Friday, the committee will decide how much of the Starr material to release and how much to withhold. While there is agreement on the vast majority of proposed cuts, knowledgeable sources say, there is also enough contentious material to keep the panel arguing for hours.
Chief among these, the sources say, are the tapes of Lewinsky's telephone conversations with Tripp, which Democrats predict will bolster Clinton's cause dramatically. Yesterday, the sources said, Republican and Democratic staff agreed to release transcripts of the Tripp tapes, but Republicans balked at releasing the tapes themselves.
According to the sources, the tapes support Lewinsky's belief that her affidavit denying a sexual relationship with Clinton could be accurate because she and the president did not have intercourse. The recording itself, the sources said, demonstrates more dramatically than the transcript that Tripp is attempting to manipulate her younger friend.
The sources said the tapes not only contain more graphic sexual descriptions than other transcripts, but controversy has also arisen because their accuracy remains in doubt, and Starr's investigators are still analyzing whether the tapes had been tampered with.
In his report to the House, Starr said that of the 27 tapes Tripp turned over to his office in January, nine were made on a recorder other than the one Tripp testified she used, and one contained evidence that it had been started and stopped during the recording.
Among Democrats, Rep. Martin T. Meehan (Mass.) questioned why the panel would consider publishing such material "without some kind of FBI ruling" on tampering.
A Republican committee member, who asked not to be identified, raised similar concerns. "If the credibility or authenticity or reliability of those tapes are called into question, that's something we should take into consideration before we release them," the member said.
But others questioned why the GOP would hold back Tripp's tapes after pushing so aggressively for the release of other information. "Republicans are talking about full disclosure," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), noting that the entire GOP side of the committee voted to re lease the videotape of Clinton's grand jury appearance. "It would be awfully hypocritical if they went about saying, 'No, not these tapes.' "
Under the House resolution governing release of the Starr report, all 16 remaining boxes of supplementary material must be released Sept. 28 unless the Judiciary Committee decides to redact them Friday.
That means staff members must look at everything in order to brief members. It is, said one knowledgeable source, "an absolutely awful job," involving virtual round-the-clock visits to a stuffy, secure room in the Ford House Office Building -- a former FBI fingerprint center.
The depository includes four rooms -- one for Republicans, one for Democrats, one for files, and a somewhat larger, windowless common room with tables where committee members and staff can peruse the documents at their leisure.
The sources said members can make copies of anything they want, but they have to stash them in locked drawers in the file room before leaving the depository. If staffers want to use documents in a conference, they have to hold the conference in the depository.
If a staffer wants to show a member a document, both must go to the depository, the sources said. Everybody who goes into the depository must have empty hands and must leave with empty hands.
Lawmakers have taken different approaches to examining the documents. Some senior members have relied on staff, but several of the newer members are spending a lot of time in the depository.
Rep. W. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) explained that since much of the case centers on differences between Clinton's and Lewinsky's versions of events, "you go to corroborating witnesses" to see if the evidence is substantiated.
Also, Hutchinson said, he had a bias toward his -- and Clinton's -- home state. "Quite frankly, I look for Arkansans," he said. "I'm particularly sensitive to the privacy issues of people who might be mentioned but not have a role in who's relevant."
Democrats are pushing for what they say is even more evidence that Starr has not yet given the House. On Tuesday, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said he wanted additional evidence that for "totally unexplained reasons the independent counsel withheld." Yesterday, Democratic sources said they believed that in a conference call with Judiciary aides, Starr's office indicated there were 20 additional boxes of material.
But Starr yesterday responded in a letter to Gephardt that while he was willing to provide any additional evidence the panel does not have, he had already given the House "all materials that were 'necessary' to the referral," including the statements of all persons named in his 453-page report on possible impeachable offenses as well as all documents cited in the report and all those received by his office from Clinton and the White House.
"As I am sure you know from your review of the voluminous materials provided in the eighteen boxes," Starr wrote, "we have in fact been overly inclusive so that the House can make its own judgment with respect to the evidence."
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