WASHINGTON -- The Senate agreed yesterday to take another look at the Whitewater controversy, this time with Republicans in charge.
By a 96-3 vote, the Senate established a special investigative committee under the leadership of New York Sen. Alphonse M. D'Amato, an outspoken critic of the administration's handling of the Whitewater affair. Hearings could begin as early as next month.
The bipartisan, Watergate-style committee is to explore an array of incidents that have spun off from the Clintons' 1978 investment in an Arkansas real estate development called Whitewater.
"Whitewater is a very serious matter," Mr. D'Amato, the chairman of the Senate banking committee, said yesterday. "Some
questions raised by Whitewater go to the very heart of our democratic system of government."
The measure was crafted by Mr. D'Amato and Maryland Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, the senior Democrat on the banking committee, who will also act as the top-ranking minority member of the special committee. The three no votes were cast by Democratic Sens. John Glenn of Ohio, Paul Simon of Illinois and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.
The Senate set an initial budget of nearly $1 million for the committee -- comprised of the Senate banking committee and two members of the Judiciary committee -- through the end of February, 1996.
Mr. D'Amato and Mr. Sarbanes met with Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr to try to make sure that the committee's work would not interfere with Mr. Starr's investigation.
White House press secretary Mike McCurry said fair hearings would show that "the amorphous and ever-shifting Whitewater charges are without merit." He said President Clinton has offered full cooperation and would not be diverted by the hearings from other issues.
Last summer's first round of congressional hearings, conducted when Democrats were in charge on Capitol Hill, examined a small portion of the Whitewater labyrinth: whether there were improper contacts between Treasury Department and White House officials regarding a regulatory agency's probe of a failed savings and loan that had ties to the Clintons.