Clinton tape to be public on Monday Accompanying papers more graphic than Starr report

'You do not have the details'

House panel's debate bitterly divided along party lines

September 19, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A bitterly divided House Judiciary Committee voted yesterday to release the president's videotaped grand jury testimony, along with 2,800 pages of other material sent to Congress by Kenneth W. Starr, much of it even more sexually graphic than Starr's initial report.

Republicans voted to include three extremely explicit passages that GOP and Democratic staff members had agreed to delete.

And they beat back efforts to delete an additional 27 passages that Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee maintained were unnecessarily salacious and designed only to embarrass President Clinton.

"America, you may think you've got the details. You do not have the details at all," warned Judiciary Committee member Steve Buyer, an Indiana Republican.

The documents and videotape will be released at 9 a.m. Monday on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year and the second-holiest day of the Jewish calendar, despite concerns raised by Democrats about that timing.

"The president's insistence that he testified truthfully in both his deposition and grand jury testimony has made it necessary to make certain sexual language a part of the public record," said Rep. Henry J. Hyde of Illinois, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which would conduct any impeachment inquiry.

"Everyone regrets this fact and wishes it were not necessary, but the president's denials of perjury have clearly made these references an unfortunate necessity."

Democrats saw the coming release in an entirely different light.

"There's enough mud at our feet already," said Rep. Steve R. Rothman of New Jersey, a committee Democrat who argued that there was enough graphic material in independent counsel Starr's report to determine whether Clinton lied under oath when he said he did not have sexual relations with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

"There's not a legal, constitutional or ethical reason to release any more."

The closed-door committee hearing was marred by rancor that spilled into the open the moment the meeting ended. Hyde insisted that the members engaged in "vigorous, spirited debate, but it was civil."

"I would say the spirit of bipartisanship is alive and flourishing," Hyde said.

To that, Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, a senior committee Democrat, barged in to say Republicans had discovered "a new concept of unilateral bipartisanship."

"If this is bipartisanship, then the Taliban wins a medal for religious tolerance," he said, referring to the Islamic fundamentalists ruling much of Afghanistan.

The material to be released could be extremely embarrassing to the president, who will be shown as evasive and uncomfortable on the videotape and will be stripped of still more dignity in print.

Abbe Lowell, the Judiciary Committee Democrats' chief investigator, said material in the 2,800 pages of appendixes is even more salacious than the core 445 pages of Starr's explosive report.

It includes Lewinsky's explicit testimony about her relationship with the president, along with testimony from the president's personal secretary, Betty Currie; long-time friend, lawyer Vernon Jordan; and FBI investigators.

Rothman said none of the information is particularly new. There are no additional sexual encounters beyond those described in Starr's initial report. But there are more details, including Lewinsky's descriptions of "phone sex."

Although Hyde said much of the sexual material has been deleted, committee lawyers say as much as 80 percent of it remains in the documents that will become public Monday.

Most of the 120 deletions agreed upon by the committee came out of testimony from federal agents that Starr himself said should be removed.

"This appears to be a rush to prejudgment and an effort to get out the most salacious material at the speed of light, not at the proper pace of justice," White House spokesman James Kennedy said.

"But in the end, it will have to be the American people who will have to see if this indeed has been a fair process or a partisan effort to embarrass the president."

The material's release could also backfire on the Republicans, some GOP members fretted, since a strong majority of #i Americans have told pollsters they have seen enough. A CNN poll yesterday showed 67 percent of respondents opposed to the release of the Clinton tape, with only 28 percent favoring it.

Rep. Constance A. Morella, a moderate Montgomery County Republican, joined a small but vocal group of Republicans yesterday who opposed the release of the president's videotaped testimony, saying the public has seen enough to make a decision.

The new material "doesn't shed any more light on the situation, but rather just brings out more heat," she said. "I have a concern it does not establish a climate that is nonpartisan, and this is a very serious matter."

Morella, however, is still a minority in her party. During this week's proceedings, some Republicans tried to ratchet up the pressure on the president, even as others tried to beat them back.

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