The Senate Judiciary Committee forged a compromise yesterday that will permit Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) to head fresh probes of the Justice Department's handling of campaign finance abuses, alleged Chinese espionage and the confrontation with Branch Davidians near Waco, Tex.
After weeks of a power struggle that had left the committee deadlocked, the panel unanimously approved an unusual arrangement permitting Specter to chair the investigations through its subcommittee on administrative oversight and courts. While Specter would have preferred heading an independent investigative task force, that effort was blocked by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who argued that any probes must be conducted on a bipartisan basis through the existing Judiciary Committee structure.
"We intend to move ahead with dispatch," Specter said yesterday. "Everybody ought to be on notice that we mean business."
Yesterday, the Judiciary Committee voted to request a variety of documents from the Justice Department relating to its probe of alleged Chinese espionage at U.S. nuclear facilities and its review of campaign finance abuses. The committee also authorized Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Leahy, the panel's ranking Democrat, to issue a subpoena for the documents, if necessary, provided their disclosure does not violate grand jury secrecy rules.
"The subpoenas will be issued next Tuesday if there is not . . . cooperation," Hatch said.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the administrative oversight subcommittee, said he will serve as a member of that panel during the investigations led by Specter and is comfortable with Specter running the probes because he is an experienced prosecutor who will get to the "truth" regarding the FBI's 1993 Waco siege, which left 74 Branch Davidians dead.
Grassley accused the FBI of "putting image before product" and decried its failure to disclose thousands of pages of documents and other information during earlier Waco investigations. "Whatever it takes to get to the bottom of this coverup, we're going to do it," Grassley said.
Justice Department and FBI officials say they are cooperating fully with congressional investigations and a federal Waco probe led by former Missouri senator John C. Danforth.
An evidence conference is scheduled for today in Waco in the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Branch Davidians' relatives. Representatives from Danforth's office and congressional committees are scheduled to join a coterie of lawyers to make a preliminary inspection of evidence the government produced recently in response to an order from U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith.
Plaintiffs' attorney Michael A. Caddell said he intends to bring to Smith's attention the FBI's recent discovery of documents previously requested in the lawsuit, including those describing rules about the use of deadly force, and statements describing the existence of videotape from closed-circuit cameras.
"The existence of this video recording system has never been revealed to Congress or anyone else," Caddell said.