By Guy Gugliotta and Juliet Eilperin
The House Judiciary Committee decided yesterday to release tens of thousands of pages of documents covering President Clinton's involvement with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky, including edited versions of taped conversations between Lewinsky and her former friend, Linda R. Tripp, and the grand jury testimony of key witnesses such as Tripp, Clinton secretary Betty Currie, and the president's friend, Vernon E. Jordan Jr.
The documents, including redacted transcripts of the Tripp tapes, were to be sent to the Government Printing Office Monday and are expected to be published late next week, probably Thursday, committee sources said. The edited tapes will be released sometime after that.
Committee Republicans billed the committee meeting as a model of bipartisanship, a "great day," as Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) described it, because both parties agreed in the vast majority of cases on what material should be released or withheld.
Democrats agreed with ranking minority member John Conyers Jr.'s (D-Mich.) grudging acknowledgment that "there is some improvement in bipartisanship," but Conyers described the GOP turnabout as "a modest retreat in the face of public opinion polls showing that people disapprove of what they are doing."
White House spokesman James E. Kennedy complained that the White House should have been able to examine the evidence "before it is circulated around the world at the speed of light." The committee's action, he said, "violates the American people's sense of decency and fair play."
It was also clear after the meeting that there was no resolution of contentious issues that have split the committee. Republicans rejected Democratic motions to give Clinton an advance look at the new evidence and refused to debate the meaning of impeachable offenses until an impeachment inquiry begins.
A new squabble also erupted when Democrats lost a motion demanding that independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr turn over any additional material he has on the Lewinsky matter as well as information describing how the attorney general authorized him to release grand jury material and investigate Lewinsky in the first place.
Minority spokesman Jim Jordan said the motion had become necessary because Republican staffers had expressed no interest in accepting Starr's offer to show the remaining Lewinsky material to a bipartisan committee delegation. In a letter to Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) this week, Starr said he had already turned over all evidence he found relevant.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) suggested the Republicans' refusal to approve the motion showed that they were not serious about obtaining extra -- and possibly exculpatory -- material about the case that Starr might have left out.
But Rep. Charles T. Canady (R-Fla.), said that Democrats had poisoned Conyers' motion by demanding information on Starr's mandate: "We're not opposed to be seeking more information," Canady said. "But there are those who want to conduct an investigation of the investigator. That would be inappropriate."
The 37-member committee began its closed meeting at 10:20 a.m. and, with short breaks for votes and lunch, continued deliberations for eight hours. The members finally emerged after excising what one source said was about one-third of an estimated 60,000 pages submitted by Starr as a supplement to the report released in the last two weeks.
The Tripp tapes, reputed to be heavily laced with profanity, explicit sexual detail and embarrassing references to uninvolved third parties, loomed as the most contentious piece of evidence. But the committee agreed without dissent to redact the transcript of the Tripp-Lewinsky conversations, and then voted unanimously to have the tape edited to conform with these changes.
This action, according to committee documents, meant that the tapes would be made available to the public only after a competent engineer agreed upon by both Conyers and Judiciary Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) had edited them.
The committee, in accordance with the rules for executive sessions, did not describe in any detail the substance of its discussions. But the motions that were voted on showed widespread agreement on most of the redactions, which were focused on repetitious and excessively salacious details, invasions of privacy of innocent people, security matters and virtually all hearsay evidence.
Both parties agreed to withhold release of an FBI interview with a woman initially called as a witness in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case regarding reports she may have been sexually assaulted by Clinton 20 years ago. The woman signed an affidavit in the Jones case swearing she had had no such contact with Clinton, but the Starr report said cryptically that she later told investigators her affidavit was false. According to sources familiar with the FBI interview, the woman became upset and the interview was inconclusive.
Also excised, on a vote in which six Republicans joined with Democrats to form a 23-12 majority, were Tripp's comments in her FBI interview about Kathleen Willey, a woman who accused the president of making an improper sexual advance.
Once the redactions were finished, the rest of the votes broke largely along party lines. The Democrats failed to pass several motions that would have opened the closed-door proceedings to the public and released a transcript of the session.
"It's pretty darn weird that you can put all those dirty words on the air but can't let the people argue about the Constitution," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).
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