By Juliet Eilperin and Guy Gugliotta
Smarting from accusations of partisanship, House Republicans took steps yesterday to accommodate Judiciary Committee Democrats seeking a greater role in deliberations on a prospective impeachment inquiry into President Clinton's involvement with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) said he would dispatch a bipartisan staff team to examine additional documents still held by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.
The last of the Starr documents submitted to the committee earlier this month have been sent to the government printer for publication later this week. Hyde said the committee examined more than 50,000 pages of documents, but members agreed to withhold the vast majority as irrelevant and publish about 3,000 pages.
Hyde said Republicans would draft rules for the inquiry based largely on the Watergate precedent and would ask a subcommittee to hold a hearing on what constitutes an impeachable offense. Hyde also said he was "inclined to grant some subpoena authority to Democrats."
Democrats have sought these concessions for some time, but yesterday they characterized Hyde's moves as insufficient: "He meant it to be a step in the right direction," Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said. "But we ought to have a committee hearing and then have a vote on what is the impeachment standard."
At the White House, however, spokesman Michael McCurry was somewhat more positive: "Certainly actions are more important than words," McCurry said. "But the reassurances given by the chairman today were welcome."
Hyde indicated for the first time that he personally would support a formal impeachment inquiry, saying that while he could not predict how the House would vote as a whole, "I should think there is enough to warrant an inquiry."
Lawyers from both sides will make their case on whether to initiate an inquiry before the full committee in a public session Oct. 5, Hyde said, after which the panel will vote on whether to open the probe.
Hyde said he decided to allow committee aides to examine the material still in Starr's possession not because it was relevant to the panel's work but because Democrats "have a lurking suspicion that there may be exculpatory material, and so we're going to accommodate them." As for the remaining documents in Starr's original submission, the committee examined more than 50,000 pages, Hyde said, but Republican staff members said only a small fraction of that -- perhaps 6,000 pages in all -- would end up being published.
Half of this was released last week as the appendices to Starr's summary report, and the other half will be published by the Government Printing Office this week. This last bunch of material -- supplementary information to the appendices -- was released to the full House by the Judiciary Committee at 12:01 a.m. today.
Knowledgeable sources said the material includes grand jury transcripts from many of the main witnesses in the Lewinsky affair, including former Lewinsky friend Linda R. Tripp, Clinton personal secretary Betty Currie, Clinton friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr. and White House Secret Service agents.
The material also contains transcripts of Tripp's telephone conversations with Lewinsky, redacted to eliminate references to uninvolved third parties and innocent people. The tapes themselves will be released as soon as they can be edited by experts to conform to the redacted transcript.
The released material contained virtually nothing relating to the case of former White House volunteer Kathleen Willey, who accused Clinton of assaulting her in the White House, according to several members.
Members said Starr withheld the Willey material as part of a possible criminal action against Democratic fund-raiser Nathan Landow and others.
Several panel members not sympathetic to Clinton said the released material showed that Betty Currie's first appearance before Starr's grand jury did Clinton considerable damage, but by the third appearance, her testimony was almost innocuous, a possible indication that she was hedging her testimony. "It's like night and day," one panelist said.
But Democratic members argued that the transcripts of Lewinsky and Tripp's phone conversations, coupled with the later release of the audio tapes, will make the public more skeptical of Starr's investigation.
Rep. Martin T. Meehan (D-Mass.), who described the tapes as "all gossip, trivial," said they demonstrated how Tripp manipulated her younger friend, pushed Lewinsky to get a job through her White House connections and later tried to "drive a wedge" between her and the president.
In all, however, the released portions of the supplementary material make up only 10 percent to 20 percent of the remaining documents, according to Diana Schacht, deputy staff director of the committee. The rest will be withheld, she said, mostly because they are only "tangentially relevant to the appendices" or "have absolutely nothing to do" with the Lewinsky affair.
Schacht said one "huge bunch" of withheld material came from the Defense Department, and GOP sources confirmed later that 75 percent of the withheld material, including White House telephone logs and a box containing Secret Service videotapes, appeared to have little or no connection to the Lewinsky matter.
The other withheld materials, the sources said, included about 10 percent of all witness transcripts and raw FBI files: "These were withheld to protect private parties who were tangential individuals not related to people in the referral," one source said.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company