Top Aides May Face Impeachment Panel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 27, 1998; Page A09
House Republicans are considering calling senior White House adviser Bruce R. Lindsey and Robert S. Bennett, President Clinton's lawyer in the Paula Jones case, to testify before the Judiciary Committee as part of its impeachment probe of the president, according to informed sources.
Republicans see Lindsey, who repeatedly invoked executive privilege rather than answer questions before the grand jury during independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation of Clinton, as a key figure in the administration's efforts to contain damaging information concerning the president. In a closed-door leadership meeting last month, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) specifically identified Lindsey's unwillingness to cooperate with Starr as an example of the White House's obstructionist tactics.
"He's obviously a focus because he's the one person Starr never got to," one GOP source said.
White House spokesman James Kennedy declined to say whether witnesses on Clinton's staff would cooperate or assert privileges in the House probe, though he criticized the GOP for failing to cooperate sufficiently with Democrats.
"The Judiciary Committee has not yet defined the scope of its investigation or the constitutional standards for impeachment. The committee has not met since the House voted almost three weeks ago and has not even set a schedule for these proceedings," Kennedy said. "Given these delays, it is premature for us to have a conversation about potential witnesses through the press. For a process badly in need of fairness and bipartisanship, this appears to be politics as usual."
Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), according to sources, is also interested in hearing from Bennett, who informed U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright in a Sept. 30 letter to disregard Monica S. Lewinsky's affidavit in the Jones case denying an affair with Clinton. Hyde has already written Bennett asking him to forward copies of any correspondence with Wright on the question of Lewinsky's affidavit, committee aides said.
According to informed sources, the committee is planning to call relatively few witnesses and is considering a truncated hearing schedule that could result in the committee's debating the record in the Starr case as early as mid-November.
Hyde still has no plans to call Lewinsky before the committee, they added, and has not decided whether he will call Starr. Though several Judiciary Democrats such as Massachusetts Reps. Martin T. Meehan and Barney Frank have said they hope to publicly question the independent counsel, the Democrats have not yet decided whom they will call.
Hyde has said he would like to forward a recommendation on impeachment to the full House before the end of the year. "We're not going to be able to hold lots of hearings with witnesses," one source said, noting that Hyde's plans call for a Dec. 31 deadline. "We'd like to go without them as much as we could."
Instead, sources said, the panel could conduct interviews and depositions with witnesses under oath in the coming month. Three of Clinton's lawyers who have already asked to participate in depositions -- White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff, special counsel Gregory B. Craig and David E. Kendall, Clinton's private attorney -- wrote Hyde on Friday asking to meet with him before he makes a decision on the subject.
"Although the Committee's rules contemplate our being able to attend evidentiary hearings and to 'question any witness before the Committee,' that right will prove utterly meaningless if the Committee's ultimate judgment is to be based on testimony taken outside the presence of both the Members and the President's counsel," they wrote.
They added that Republicans' concern that a White House presence would intimidate witnesses was "baseless."
Lawyers working for committee Democrats will be allowed to attend the sessions, but a committee aide who asked not to be identified said Hyde has not decided on the Clinton request.
Committee Democrats asked Hyde last week to join with Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the ranking minority member, in asking Attorney General Janet Reno to turn over materials Starr submitted as part of his request to expand his authority in order to investigate Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky. Hyde has yet to decide whether to make the request, aides said.
Though the panel has released much of the material Starr submitted to Congress last month, Judiciary Democrats' spokesman Jim Jordan said yesterday that the House Recording Studio does not plan to release audiotapes of Lewinsky's conversations with Starr informant Linda R. Tripp before the Nov. 3 elections. The committee has already released written transcripts of the conversations, and Judiciary GOP aides said they do not know when the tapes will be ready for release.
Staff writer John F. Harris contributed to this report.
© Copyright The Washington Post Company