By Juliet Eilperin
Clinton's attorneys pressed repeatedly for access to depositions to be taken of witnesses and requested that Judiciary Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) instruct independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr to submit any additional allegations of impeachable offenses by a specific deadline to limit the scope of the inquiry, sources familiar with the closed session said afterward. The White House team also pressed Republicans to specify which allegations will be considered.
"Without fair notice of what the charges are, we will have no fair chance to represent our client, the president of the United States, adequately," White House special counsel Gregory B. Craig said after the 90-minute meeting, comparing the GOP's approach to "attacking a man who is blindfolded and handcuffed."
Clinton's lawyers argued once again that the panel should set standards for impeachment before investigating Starr's charges. But Republicans said they do not anticipate formal deliberations on the constitutional meaning of impeachment. They instead will focus on determining whether Clinton lied under oath and obstructed justice during the Paula Jones case to cover up his affair with Monica S. Lewinsky.
"The standard is high crimes and misdemeanors," said Hyde spokesman Paul McNulty. "The real question is what are the facts."
Julian Epstein, chief counsel for Judiciary Democrats, said the two sides remained far apart. "There are numerous unresolved issues, including whether the committee will engage in a process to determine whether any allegations, if proven true, would meet the constitutional test," Epstein said.
To that end, the White House sent a letter to Hyde and ranking Judiciary Democrat John Conyers Jr. (Mich.) yesterday urging the panel to schedule hearings during the week of Nov. 9 to take testimony from constitutional scholars, historians and others about what should constitute high crimes and misdemeanors, writing that "the process will not be full and fair if such evidence is not included in the record."
White House officials also attempted to define the scope of the inquiry. Although Starr has said he could not rule out sending more evidence to Congress, Republicans said they will consider a request by David E. Kendall, Clinton's private attorney, to have Hyde write the prosecutor again and ask him to make any additional charges by a certain date.
Hyde's staff members indicated during the meeting that they are concentrating on the Lewinsky matter, although Craig said the administration remains concerned that Republicans could expand the probe by accepting what may "come through the transom." Craig noted that while Starr submitted 11 counts of possible impeachable conduct, chief GOP investigator David P. Schippers identified 15 counts in his report to the committee. Hyde later suggested consolidating the allegations.
"It's a very simple question: What is the subject of the investigation?" Craig asked.
According to sources close to the situation, White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff asked Schippers whether the 15 allegations he identified represented the broadest possible reach of any impeachment probe. Schippers explained that he had listed "potential crimes" Clinton may have committed but drew a distinction between crimes and impeachable offenses, they said. He said he deliberately left out abuse of power because it did not constitute a crime, sources added, but it could resurface later as an impeachable offense.
These disagreements could affect the degree of cooperation as the inquiry moves toward Hyde's self-imposed Dec. 31 deadline. While both sides pledged cooperation, sources said Ruff indicated it would be difficult to provide exculpatory evidence when it is still unclear what lawmakers will investigate.
McNulty said the GOP hoped to conduct "this inquiry expeditiously" but it "depends on cooperation" from the White House. "At some point the president's defenders have got to get away from this partisan attack on process," he said.
A major flash point during the discussion was whether Clinton's attorneys could attend depositions, with White House lawyers arguing they may be cut out of the process if the panel relies on sworn testimony rather than formal hearings. Republicans emphasized they were merely following the Watergate precedent and the presence of Clinton attorneys could intimidate witnesses. Democrats responded that Watergate investigators did not rely on depositions and Clinton's lawyers asked at least to be notified in advance so they could submit questions, sources said.
Committee staff director Thomas E. Mooney indicated that aides are compiling a witness list, identifying who may be subpoenaed and who may be granted immunity, and Hyde hoped to make an announcement in two weeks. When Conyers's aides complained they had not been consulted, sources said, Mooney responded that Democrats would be alerted before any announcement.
Staff writer Peter Baker contributed to this report.
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