Leader of inquiry on Starr report admits affair Republican Henry Hyde would lead committee on any impeachment attempt

September 17, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- For the third time in as many weeks, the media has brought to light the dated sexual dalliances of a conservative House Republican who could soon sit in judgment of President Clinton's affair with a former White House intern.

But this time, the Republican was of particular prominence: Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, the stately, widely respected chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who would lead any impeachment inquiry.

The liberal-leaning, on-line magazine Salon posted an article yesterday detailing a sexual affair between Hyde and a suburban Chicago beautician named Cherie Snodgrass that lasted from 1965 to 1969. Her husband, retired furniture salesman Fred Snodgrass, told the magazine that he had watched the House extol the virtues of the Judiciary Committee chairman last week, "and all I can think of is here is this man, this hypocrite who broke up my family."

Hyde did not deny an affair that ended nearly 30 years ago, when he was a member of the Illinois state legislature. But he sought to dismiss its importance.

"The statute of limitations has long since passed on my youthful indiscretions," the 74-year-old Republican said in a statement. "Suffice it to say Cherie Snodgrass and I were good friends a long, long time ago. After Mr. Snodgrass confronted my wife, the friendship ended and my marriage remained intact. The only purpose of this being dredged up now is an attempt to intimidate me and it won't work."

Other Republicans were furious, charging that the information was part of an orchestrated effort by the White House and its allies to smear and intimidate Congress into dropping an impeachment probe.

"There would be nothing worse than, through intimidation, you have restrained an investigation," said Rep. Anne M. Northup, a Kentucky Republican. "That's pretty scary."

Hyde himself hinted at the article to come Tuesday when he forwarded to members of his committee a memo warning that efforts to intimidate members of Congress would violate federal law.

"It has been reported in the media that some supporters of the president, possibly including White House staff, may be attempting to collect and disseminate derogatory personal information about members of Congress," Hyde's memo stated. "I request that you immediately notify me if you learn of any activity or information relating to this concern."

Indeed, the Hyde affair is only the latest in what is beginning to appear like a trend. Smoked out by Vanity Fair magazine and local reporters, Rep. Dan Burton, chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee and a fierce Clinton critic, was forced two weeks ago to acknowledge he had fathered a son during an affair that nearly wrecked his marriage.

Last week, Rep. Helen Chenoweth, an Idaho Republican running political commercials that denounce Clinton's personal behavior, had to acknowledge a long-running affair in the 1980s, after the Idaho Statesman newspaper reported the relationship.

And Salon magazine had already published an article saying Clinton allies would employ a "scorched-earth" tactic against Republicans if impeachment loomed in the future. The article named four potential targets: House Speaker Newt Gingrich, House Republican Leader Dick Armey, Burton and Hyde.

But White House aides denied having anything to do with a strategy targeting Republicans.

"We have a zero-tolerance policy for this kind of behavior at the White House," said White House deputy press secretary Joe Lockhart. "If any news organization can reveal who is responsible for this behavior, that person will be fired immediately."

Norm Sommer, a friend of Fred Snodgrass, said he contacted dozens of media outlets before convincing Salon to take the story. But he said he wasn't part of any Democratic smear campaign.

Sommer, a self-described political junkie, said six years ago, he had been on a Florida tennis court with Snodgrass. As they were switching sides of the court, they discovered they had both come from Chicago.

When Sommer mentioned that Hyde was an acquaintance, Snodgrass angrily spilled out the story of his wife's affair, a long-running, fiery romance in which Hyde had showered her with clothes, furniture and a well-appointed apartment, Snodgrass said. Hyde was married at the time.

Sommer thought nothing of the story until the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke in January.

"When the Monica story broke in January, all these Republicans were insisting they were going to get Clinton," Sommer said. "And I made up my mind to do what I could" to help the president.

Sommer said he contacted 57 news organizations. He almost convinced the Boston Globe to take the story, a claim confirmed XTC by Globe reporter Chris Black. Two months ago, Sommer did have contact with Salon reporter Jonathan Broder, who was preparing his story on the Democrats' "scorched-earth" tactics. Broder said Sommer contacted him. Sommer said Broder reached out to him.

But Broder decided against using the story at that time.

Sommer insists he received no guidance on distributing the Hyde story either from the White House or Democratic allies. He did try to contact the Democratic National Committee, but he said he received no help.

Last weekend, he said he tried to call the White House to urge the president not to resign "because a story was about to come out that would change the whole dynamic of the situation." But he said he reached no one.

Finally, he contacted Salon after hearing TV talk show host Geraldo Rivera read articles from the Internet magazine.

Pub Date: 9/17/98

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