Democrats, GOP Clash Over FBI Documents
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 19, 1998; Page A35
Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee in recent days urged fellow GOP lawmakers to read sealed documents containing unsubstantiated allegations against President Clinton. The documents, part of the material submitted to Congress by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, were only passingly referred in Starr's document summary, and were not included in that portion of his submission that the committee decided to make public.
Democrats yesterday accused the Republicans of trying to drum up support for impeachment on the eve of the House vote based on unproven and "misleading" information.
During a private meeting of House Republicans this week, Rep. Stephen E. Buyer (R-Ind.) urged colleagues to inspect the FBI documents, according to participants in the session. One member recalled that Buyer was "rather impassioned that all members should go to view all the evidence that was available."
The documents at issue relate to a witness in the Paula Jones lawsuit, identified only as Jane Doe No. 5 in the Starr documents made public by the committee. In his narrative history of the Jones case, Starr said that on Jan. 2, 1998, "Jane Doe No. 5 signed an affidavit in which she denied that the President made unwelcome sexual advances to me in the late seventies." On Jan. 9, Starr said, she testified during a deposition with Jones lawyers that "if she previously had said that the president had sexually assaulted her, 'it was untrue,'‚" and further testified her affidavit had been correct.
In its initial mention of Jane Doe No. 5's affidavit, however, the Starr narrative notes, in parentheses and without further explanation, that "(On April 8, 1998, however, Jane Doe No. 5 stated to OIC [Office of the Independent Counsel] investigators that this affidavit was false.)" That sentence is followed by a footnote referring to the text of the investigator's interview with her.
Sources later said that the FBI interviewers had found the woman's account "inconclusive" and it was decided not to include it in the narrative. But it is apparently these documents that Buyer urged GOP colleagues to read in material that remains under seal in an area for "secured" information in a House storage room.
At least a half-dozen House Republicans have looked at the secret material, as recently as yesterday. Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.) spent three hours viewing the sealed material, but would not say whether it influenced his announcement Thursday that he will back impeachment.
Similarly, Rep. Michael D. Crapo (R-Idaho), an impeachment proponent, said he looked at the documents at midday yesterday as "a matter of thoroughness." He said he concluded that the "redacted material, or at least the portion that I saw, [was not] directly related to the specific charges here."
A spokeswoman for Rep. Mark E. Souder (R-Ind.), who has not said how he will vote today, said the congressman learned of the documents during a conversation Tuesday evening with Buyer and Rep. Ed Pease (R-Ind.), in which he had inquired whether there was anything further that he should read to help him make a well-grounded decision.
The pair told Souder they had just decided to make the sealed documents available, and he spent four hours reviewing documents in the storage room at the Gerald R. Ford building, according to Angela Flood, Souder's press secretary. Flood said that the new information contributed to but did not cause the congressman's decision to begin rethinking his opposition to impeachment.
As Republicans encouraged their colleagues to review the documents, Democrats found themselves in an awkward spot. It gave them fresh ammunition with which to criticize the GOP zeal to impeach Clinton. At the same time, it drew attention to unsavory if unsubstantiated allegations involving the president.
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee were livid yesterday over the inspections of the sealed documents, accusing Republicans of circulating unfounded rumors about Clinton and of failing to tell Democrats that the sealed documents were available. "We had not allowed any Democratic members to go over there, because we didn't know that they were permitted to attend," said Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), the committee's ranking Democrat. Conyers termed the GOP behavior "an incredible violation of our democratic rights."
Early yesterday evening, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) broached the matter on the House floor, asking whether Republicans have "been able to see private showings of nonrelevant material in a secure room to influence their votes, and whether or not we've been given the same opportunity." Jim Jordan, spokesman for the panel's Democrats, said: "It's a sleazy cheap shot that's entirely consistent with Republicans' obsessions with Bill Clinton."
Staff writers Lorraine Adams and Charles Babington contributed to this report.
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