GOP alleges misuse of funds in legal defense of Clinton House hearing erupts into charges over work done on taxpayers' time

March 13, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- House Republicans attacked the White House yesterday on the Monica Lewinsky matter for the first time in a formal setting, charging that taxpayer money had been used inappropriately to finance a smear campaign in defense of the president.

The Republicans complained that the White House was using government lawyers to defend the president in a private legal matter, the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct case. Moreover, they asserted, White House officials are inappropriately attacking President Clinton's accusers during paid working hours, which may be an illegal misappropriation of federal money.

"I fear taxpayer dollars are being used to fund an investigative squad to go after enemies of this White House," Rep. Robert L. Livingston of Louisiana, chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, said during the first congressional hearing to touch on the sex-and-perjury investigation by Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel. "That has to stop, and it has to stop immediately."

Jim Kennedy, a special adviser to the White House counsel, denied that the counsel's office had been used inappropriately, and he turned the tables on Congress. Kennedy argued that an expanded counsel's office has become necessary because of the Republican-led Congress' tendency to dig into every allegation of impropriety against the White House.

"If you want to talk misuse of taxpayer dollars, look no further than the Republican investigatory committees," Kennedy charged. "The 105th Congress alone has embarked on or are planning 26 GOP investigations of the president and his party."

The hearing of the House subcommittee that allocates the White House budget would ordinarily be a low-key affair. But the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Jim Kolbe, an Arizona Republican, used the event to focus on the White House counsel's office.

Republicans accused Clinton of employing an "unprecedented" 34 lawyers, paralegals and researchers who earn a combined $2.4 million -- 10 percent of the White House's salary budget. Kennedy conceded that the office had about 20 attorneys and did not dispute that there are 34 total employees. He said the Bush administration had a similar number.

Last year, the House and Senate's campaign finance investigations alone filed 600 requests for documents to the counsel's office, yielding 250,000 pieces of paper. Six attorneys and three paralegals respond almost full time to congressional, Justice Department and independent counsel investigations, Kennedy said.

"At no time has a president been asked for more information, been bedeviled by more minutiae, than this president and this White House," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland, the leading Democrat on the subcommittee.

If the tenor of the hearing was an indication, the Lewinsky issue could tie Congress into partisan knots. House Republicans expect Starr to refer his investigation to Congress rather than indict or clear Clinton on his own.

That could lead to impeachment proceedings. But any legitimate proceedings would need bipartisan support, because the final vote to remove Clinton from office would require the votes of two-thirds of the Senate. Such cooperation was nowhere in sight yesterday.

It was left to Livingston, who is aiming to be the next speaker of the House, to fire accusations. He said successive Clinton White House counsels had used their positions for political purposes: Bernard W. Nussbaum allegedly requesting confidential files from the FBI, Jack Quinn allegedly withholding Whitewater documents from congressional inquiries, and current counsel Charles F. C. Ruff's "deep involvement" in "Clinton's full-court press into Mr. Starr's inquiry into the Monica Lewinsky affair."

Clinton, Livingston allowed, is not using taxpayer dollars to pay the new squad of friends and attorneys, such as Mickey Kantor and Harold Ickes, who have been brought in to help on the Lewinsky crisis. But, Livingston said, the White House is providing office space and secretaries for them.

And, he charged, Sidney Blumenthal, a top aide, spends most of his time attacking Starr.

Livingston also spoke about the alleged use of federal money to hire private investigators to dig up dirt on Clinton's foes. Kennedy repeated White House statements that at no time has the White House hired or authorized private investigators to look into anyone's private life.

Pub Date: 3/13/98

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