WASHINGTON -- Signaling his intention to move aggressively in reopening the Senate's Whitewater investigation, the prospective chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee said yesterday he plans to hold hearings on the issue as soon as late January or early February.
Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., who as chairman of the banking panel would be the Senate's chief Whitewater investigator, said he is inclined to create a special subcommittee -- which he would chair -- to handle the Whitewater probe.
By doing so, he said, senators who are not members of the banking panel also could participate.
The Whitewater affair has been a nagging embarrassment for President Clinton since early in his term and is likely to become even more so now that Republicans have assumed control of Congress.
In an early indication of the high priority Mr. D'Amato places on Whitewater, he and six other Republicans on the banking panel wrote to Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr last week asking him to investigate whether senior White House aides George Stephanopoulos and Harold M. Ickes lied during Whitewater-related testimony before Congress last summer.
While he has yet to receive a response from Mr. Starr, Mr. D'Amato said testimony given during depositions and at Senate hearings raise questions about the "truthfulness" of the two men. Mr. D'Amato, speaking on CNN's "Evans & Novak" program, said his first priority will be to hold hearings on the handling of Whitewater-related documents that were removed from White House Deputy Counsel Vincent Foster's office after he committed suicide in July 1993.
"There were allegations that some may have been destroyed or shredded or sent to various places and were under control of the White House personnel and maybe even [first lady Hillary Rodham] Clinton," Mr. D'Amato said. "We have not finished and completed that task, and that is what we're going to start with."
Acknowledging that he would need Mr. Starr's approval before undertaking such a probe, Mr. D'Amato said he intends to meet with the prosecutor on the subject soon. Mr. Starr's predecessor in the Whitewater case, special counsel Robert B. Fiske Jr., had asked Congress to refrain from holding hearings on that issue and other Whitewater matters under investigation.
While the House is seen as the likely body to take the lead on many conservative priorities in the new Congress -- such as welfare reform, tax cuts and a presidential line-item veto -- Mr. D'Amato is expected to move more swiftly than his counterpart, moderate Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, who is expected to head the '' House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee.
The Whitewater Development Corp. was a failed Ozarks real estate project jointly owned by James B. McDougal and then-Arkansas Gov. Clinton and his wife. The central focus of the Whitewater inquiry is whether either Mr. Clinton or his campaign were improperly enriched by money from the now-defunct Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, which Mr. McDougal also owned. The inquiry spread to questions of propriety in the Clinton administration's subsequent handling of the affair.
Meanwhile, Mr. Starr's office is expected to make Whitewater-related announcements early this week in Little Rock, Ark. One is likely to be the official confirmation of a plea bargain with former Associate Attorney General Webster L. Hubbell, a close friend and golfing partner of the president and a former law partner of Hillary Clinton.