Judiciary Panel Spars Over Documents
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 29, 1998; Page A17
Less than three weeks before the House Judiciary Committee hopes to begin deliberations over whether to impeach President Clinton, committee Democrats sparred yesterday with independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, and with the panel's Republicans, over what documents they need to consider Starr's impeachment charges.
Yesterday's skirmish was the latest in a series over Democratic efforts to draw attention to Starr's investigatory tactics even as Clinton's conduct is examined. The committee's ranking minority member, John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), had asked for documents related to Starr's January request to the Justice Department that he expand his Whitewater inquiry to investigate Clinton's relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky, as well as "rough notes" of all interviews conducted during the Lewinsky investigation.
In a letter to committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), Conyers charged that Starr's office had told him it would not respond to Democratic requests for information unless they were approved by Hyde. That notification, minority staff aides said, came in a telephone call yesterday morning from Starr deputy Robert J. Bittman.
Starr's office declined to comment on Conyers's version of events. Late yesterday, however, the office released a letter to Conyers noting that the "materials you request are voluminous, and many are under active investigation or otherwise very sensitive. We are currently reviewing your request and evaluating the release of these materials to you." The letter was signed by Bittman.
But Julian Epstein, chief counsel to committee Democrats, said last night that the Democrats had received no such letter.
The current controversy began Oct. 20, with a letter from Conyers to Hyde asking that he agree to a joint request to Starr for the information. Hyde did not agree, committee staff members said, prompting Conyers's unilateral letter to Starr on Tuesday.
After Bittman's telephone call yesterday morning, Epstein said, Conyers wrote again to Hyde yesterday reiterating his request and noting that "it would be most unfortunate to see our mutual efforts at expeditious review interfered with by disagreement over mere requests for relevant information."
Conyers also wrote to Attorney General Janet Reno, requesting her assistance in obtaining whatever documents Starr had submitted to her in his request to expand his jurisdiction.
Yesterday afternoon, Hyde indicated he would try to work out something with Conyers. "Very shortly, Chairman Hyde expects to work with Mr. Conyers to come up with a mutually agreeable request," said committee spokeswoman Michelle Morgan.
But Hyde spokesman Sam Stratman also questioned Democratic motives in focusing on Starr. "This raises the relevant question of whether Mr. Conyers is seeking an expansion of the scope of the [committee] inquiry, contrary to his previous public pronouncements," Stratman said, "and it raises a further troubling question about whether this is a move to delay timely resolution of this entire matter."
According to Justice Department spokesman Bert Brandenburg, Conyers's request is the fourth Reno has received for such information. Clinton attorney David E. Kendall first asked for the documents Oct. 5; Judiciary Democrat Martin T. Meehan (Mass.) sent a similar letter Oct. 15; and a trio of committee Democrats – Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (Va.), and Maxine Waters (Calif.) – made the same request Oct. 21.
Conyers's staff attorneys have also begun examining General Accounting Office audits of Starr's financial statements, including which private contractors Starr hired. In one instance, the GAO reported, the office justified buying a photocopying machine in January because it planned to be in operation for "at least" an additional 40 months.
Staff writer Michael Grunwald contributed to this report.
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