Democrats question release of tape on Rosh Hashana Jewish high holy day takes some lawmakers away from Capitol Hill

September 19, 1998|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writers David Folkenflik, Eric Siegal and Jonathan Weisman contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Why does grand jury testimony containing sexually graphic details of President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky have to be made public on the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana, some Democrats in Congress are asking.

"I have heard from scores of constituents who are outraged that the testimony would be released during one of the holiest days in the Jewish calendar," wrote Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a Democrat from New York City, in a letter to the House Judiciary Committee.

"I share their concern."

In a bitterly partisan vote yesterday, the Republican-led Judiciary Committee decided to release 2,800 pages of material related to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation of Clinton, well as a videotape of the Clinton's Aug. 17 grand jury testimony. The documents are expected to be released at 9 a.m. Monday.

While Democrats were dismayed at the decision to release the documents at all -- portraying it as an effort by Republicans to embarrass the president -- some viewed the timing as particularly offensive.

"They could have waited until Wednesday," when Jewish members of Congress return to Washington after the Rosh Hashana break, said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat and the only member of the Maryland delegation who is Jewish.

"It seems a little insensitive. I think it would have been more appropriate for it to have been done when we were back."

On the Judiciary Committee, six of the 15 Democrats are Jewish. None of the Republican committee members is Jewish.

"It's senseless and insensitive -- we're offended," said Jim Jordan, spokesman for the committee's Democratic minority. Members were less disturbed by the fact that they will not be on Capitol Hill to respond to the release, Jordan said, and more offended "philosophically."

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat who serves on the committee and is an Orthodox Jew, said the timing of the release makes the Republicans' decision to make public the sexually explicit documents "more unseemly."

Timing did not offend everyone.

In Baltimore, several Jewish leaders said the timing of the release is irrelevant. Their complaint is that any public release of the lurid material is unfair and unnecessary.

"I don't think it makes any difference whether it's Rosh Hashana," said Rabbi Floyd L. Herman of Har Sinai Congregation. "I don't think it's the right thing to do.

"I just think the whole process has been flawed. [But] I won't have to worry about it until after services are over."

Pub Date: 9/19/98

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