Clinton accused of travel office cover-up Democrats walk out as House panel issues report on firings three years ago

September 19, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- With Democratic members staging a walkout, a Republican-controlled House committee yesterday formally accused President Clinton of directing a widespread cover-up of the 1993 White House travel office firings, including his wife's role in it.

At a stormy session at which members of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee tried to out-shout one another, Democrats accused the panel's chairman, Rep. William F. Clinger Jr., of abusing his power by making a politically motivated attack on the president in the midst of an election campaign.

The committee's report requires no further governmental action and ends the congressional inquiry into the firings of seven travel office employees.

But the report is expected to be studied closely by the staff of Kenneth W. Starr, the Whitewater independent counsel, who is investigating whether White House aides gave false sworn statements to Congress to protect first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in the travel office purge.

With 24 Republicans voting to endorse the report after Democrats stalked out of the hearing room, the committee issued a report alleging that Clinton "engaged in an unprecedented mis- use of the executive power, abuse of executive privilege and obstruction of numerous investigations into the travel office."

The alleged cover-up was intended to conceal from Congress why the travel office employees were abruptly fired in May 1993, the report said.

The committee said travel director Billy Ray Dale and his colleagues were dismissed so that Harry Thomason, a Hollywood producer friend of the Clintons, and Catherine Cornelius, a distant cousin of the president, could seek a share of the government's travel business.

The report alleged that Clinton and White House aides engaged in "a colossal damage-control effort" -- obstructing the committee's two-year inquiry and delaying release of key records to hide the motivation for the travel office purge.

The president and his aides also sought to conceal that Mrs. Clinton had pushed for the firings, at Thomason's urging, the report said. "White House aides initially withheld information about Mrs. Clinton's involvement in the firings," the committee charged.

The first lady has denied responsibility for the dismissals. And Mark D. Fabiani, a White House counsel, attacked the report as "shoddy and unprofessional," declaring that "today's McCarthy-like charges by the Newt Gingrich-led Republicans are meaningless as they are political."

Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, the panel's ranking Democrat, said before leading the walkout that the report made "unsubstantiated character attacks in a shameful and crassly partisan smear campaign."

"I don't approve of everything the White House did, but where is the specific evidence of wrongdoing?" Waxman asked.

Democratic Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski charged that Clinger, a fellow Pennsylvanian, and other Republicans were trying to "attain political rather than governmental objectives by attacking the character of the president of the United States with conclusions unsupported by any evidence."

In calling for approval of the report, Clinger said it "demonstrates the failures of the Clinton White House to live up to the ethical standards they themselves promised to maintain."

Robert S. Bennett, a Washington attorney representing Thomason, complained yesterday that his client was never given a chance to testify before the committee in public.

Pub Date: 9/19/96

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