Sen. John P. East (R-N.C.) used a rare procedural ploy yesterday to stall a Senate Labor Committee investigation into why the FBI withheld from the committee information about Labor Secretary Raymond J. Donovan.
Before East's tactical move, he and Sen. Jeremiah Denton (R-Ala.) had argued against a resolution giving the committee power to take sworn statements about the Donovan confirmation proceedings from the FBI and other administration officials.
East then invoked an infrequently used procedural rule barring committee hearings without the Senate's unanimous consent once the full Senate has been in session for two hours and a senator has objected to proceeding with a committee meeting.
East and Denton said the proposed resolution was outside the committee's jurisdiction and would turn committee staffers into "surrogate senators" with power to conduct their own interrogations.
But Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), angered by the FBI's failure to provide the information it had about Donovan's alleged ties to organized crime figures during the committee's hearings, swore to bring the resolution to the Senate floor if his fellow Republicans kept sidetracking a committee vote.
"This baby is going to be put to bed if I have anything to do with it," Hatch said.
He said special prosecutor Leon Silverman's report last month, finding "insufficient credible evidence" to warrant prosecuting Donovan, closed the case on whether the labor committee erred in confirming him.
However, Hatch said an investigation is still required to "resolve the issue of why we did not have the timely submission of information that could have or would have been helpful to our deliberations."
Hatch said he didn't "find any fault with the FBI" but believed the agency was put in a "Catch-22 position between the committee and the White House, and felt they owed allegiance to the White House." The FBI had submitted the information to the White House.
Hatch said he believed that committee staff could resolve "this last unpleasant aspect" by talking to just three people: FBI executive assistant director Francis M. Mullen Jr., who had assured the committee that FBI organized crime wiretaps contained "absolutely nothing pertaining to Schiavone Construction," Donovan's company; Anthony Adamski Jr., the FBI agent who headed the investigation, and White House Counsel Fred F. Fielding, who received the FBI background reports on Donovan.
But the committee's ranking minority member, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who sponsored the resolution along with Hatch, suggested that such a limited inquiry might not be adequate and called for a "full and complete" investigation of the FBI's role.
The resolution requires approval from both Hatch and Kennedy before any deposition takes place.
The committee, by a vote of 10 to 5, defeated East's motion to delay action on the resolution until next week. East then invoked the procedural rule.
The markup is scheduled to resume today.
East argued that the Senate Judiciary subcommittee with oversight responsibility for the FBI should conduct the investigation. Denton is chairman of the subcommittee.
Even if the labor panel has jurisdiction to investigate the FBI, East said, "I question whether maybe we would want to do it lest it appear to be self-serving or possibly a vendetta of some kind" against the bureau.
Denton, the only other senator who spoke out strongly against the resolution, contended that it was an "extraordinary delegation of power to staff" that violated committee rules.
The resolution requires a committee member to be present at the start of each deposition but would allow staff members to continue questioning on their own.
Asked after the session why he thought East and Denton were so opposed to the resolution, Hatch suggested that there was "a lot of pressure from the FBI" for the Judiciary Committee, not the Labor Committee, to conduct the investigation. He later said that he withdrew that statement.