By Juliet Eilperin
Hyde gave no specific timetable for public hearings as his committee determines whether the allegations against Clinton in the Monica S. Lewinsky matter warrant impeachment. Sources close to the inquiry said the current thinking is for such hearings to begin around Nov. 16 in order to meet Hyde's self-imposed Dec. 31 deadline for wrapping up the investigation.
First, ground rules for the probe must be worked out between the two parties and with the White House. Today's session with Clinton's attorneys and the top Judiciary aides is meant to be "a friendly discussion setting the ground rules and procedures," Hyde said.
The meeting, scheduled for this afternoon on Capitol Hill, will include White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff, special counsel Gregory Craig and top aides to both Hyde and the Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.).
Hyde, who will not participate, said his aides will see whether the White House will agree to certain facts outlined in independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report to Congress. But the meeting, committee sources said, is expected to focus more on determining the level of participation by White House attorneys in the probe than on reaching agreement about contested facts.
GOP chief investigator David P. Schippers and Hyde staff director Thomas E. Mooney, the sources said, will emphasize Republicans' desire for an expedited process, asking for the prompt delivery of any documents as well as any exculpatory evidence the administration might offer.
"The December 31 deadline is all contingent on cooperation," Hyde said. "I think everybody would like to move it along but we have to do it appropriately. We don't want to rush to a conclusion that is not well thought out."
Earlier this month the House approved rules for the impeachment process providing Clinton and his lawyers access to all Judiciary hearings, whether closed or open, as well as the chance to question witnesses. The committee has yet to decide what process will govern the taking of depositions, and Republicans may be wary of granting the White House full access to them.
"I think it would be chilling if we take a deposition of Betty Currie with a White House lawyer plopped down in a chair listening to every word," one GOP source said.
Republicans have also begun discussing the idea of asking Clinton to agree to specific facts just "for the purposes of impeachment," sources said, the idea being that such an admission would have no legal implications for other proceedings, such as the Paula Jones lawsuit in which the president allegedly perjured himself.
Today's session is expected to be the first in a series between Clinton's lawyers and Judiciary staff, and will also include the Democrats' chief investigator, Abbe D. Lowell, and their chief counsel, Julian Epstein.
Meanwhile, the two parties unanimously agreed late last week to provide the Judiciary Committee with an additional $1.2 million in funding for the impeachment probe.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company