"Many members of the other party know that I am willing to take part in reasonable hearings," Rep. Robert S. Walker (R-Pa.) said at a congressional hearing last summer on the Environmental Protection Agency.
But when the published record of that hearing appeared this April, Walker was quoted as having said: "Many members of the other party know that I am not willing to take part in reasonable hearings."
There are more than 100 similar discrepancies between the original transcript and the published record, many of which made what Republican congressmen said appear to be just the opposite.
Discovered about three weeks ago by an aide to Walker, the discrepancies have triggered a request for a House ethics committee investigation from three Democrats who chair the committees whose subcommittees held the hearings. But Republicans have charged that this will result in a cover-up.
The words of eight GOP congressmen were changed in the hearing record. A comparison of the original transcript with the published version shows that the comments of Democrats and the testimony of witnesses also were altered.
Rep. John Patrick Hiler (R-Ind.) is quoted in the original transcript as having said: " . . . a great disservice to the witnesses . . . to have very very few people on the majority who called this particular hearing."
In the published version, the word majority has been changed to minority, making criticism of the Democratic majority appear to be criticism of Hiler's party, the Republican minority.
One witness, George Woodwell, said at the hearing: "And it is entirely conceivable that there is a structure of air pollution, e.g., that could indeed be managed more wisely by the states."
That statement is weakened by the insertion of qualifiers in the published version: "It is, I suppose, entirely conceivable that there is a series of air pollution problems that can be managed more wisely by the states, but I doubt it."
The result of the changes overall, said Rep. Larry Winn Jr. (R-Kan.), whose words also were changed, is that "the majority party came out looking very knowledgeable and the minority party came out looking silly, frivolous and uninterested."
The published version of committee proceedings, much like the Congressional Record, is what libraries, courts and scholars rely on for legislative intent and history.
The ranking Republicans on the three committees involved--Government Operations, Science and Technology, and Energy and Commerce--requested in a letter to Science and Technology Chairman Don Fuqua (D-Fla.) that his committee hold special hearings to investigate the alterations.
Fuqua, with Reps. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.) and John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), the chairmen of the other two committees, urged the ranking minority members to sign the letter requesting an ethics committee investigation. The Republicans declined.
Winn said they feared "that the matter will get lost in the ethics committee. Things have a tendency to do that over there."
Although they said they have no proof, the Republicans called the changes "purposeful" and "malicious" and said they were probably the work of a Democratic staff member on one of the committees. This view was supported by several senior Democratic counsel.
Members of Congress are permitted to make "editorial changes"--cleaning up grammar and delivery--in their remarks prior to publication of official versions, both on the floor of the House and in most committees.
But changing the substance of remarks is not permitted, nor is altering the testimony of witnesses. Altering official government documents is a criminal offense.