GOP leader spurns deal Gingrich rejects negotiated settlement of Clinton scandal

Democrats seek quick end

Judiciary Committee to review remaining evidence from Starr

The Clinton Investigation

September 24, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Newt Gingrich rebuffed White House overtures for a negotiated settlement to the president's sex scandal yesterday, saying any talk of President Clinton's punishment should begin only after an impeachment inquiry has begun -- possibly within weeks.

As Republicans continued their march toward impeachment hearings, Democrats demanded a quick end to the Monica Lewinsky matter yesterday.

House Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Sen. John Kerry and even the White House suggested that Congress could reach an impeachment decision in as little as four weeks, if Republicans would agree not to drag out the process for political gain and prolong the nation's discomfort.

"For the sake of the country and in the interests of limiting the exposure of our children to this kind of detail in an atmosphere of wall-to-wall media coverage, this needs to be dealt with with due process and justice but also deliberate speed," Gephardt said in demanding a fixed timetable for resolving the president's fate.

The tight deadline carries political overtones.

Democrats would like to resolve the matter before the November elections. But Republicans would like to sustain the issue throughout the campaign season, sensing that the scandal is threatening some Democratic candidates.

Rep. Tom DeLay, the third-ranking Republican in the House, drove home the Republicans' message last night that they were in no mood to negotiate.

"There's a decision that we're going to stay the course, and there's no room for any deals," DeLay said after the House Republican leadership's weekly meeting.

On a day when Republican and Democratic leaders met to try to smooth over their differences, Congress seemed more divided than ever over an impeachment inquiry that is expected to be approved by early October.

Lawmakers took a break from their rancorous bickering to welcome Clinton to the Capitol to honor President Nelson Mandela of South Africa with the Congressional Gold Medal.

Gephardt and Gingrich sat side by side, with Mandela separating the House speaker from the president. But even under the pomp of the occasion, the tensions lay barely disguised, especially because the South African hero had pointedly spoken in Clinton's defense Tuesday night.

"Politics in a free society is a very rough-and-tumble business, involving at times great personal pain," Gingrich said during the ceremony.

"I pray our symbolism today with Mandela will match our actions tomorrow," said Rep. Maxine Waters, a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee who was girding for a closed-door battle in the committee, which would begin any impeachment hearings.

"I pray we will all be better, more thoughtful forever, and most just in our work, because we have been touched by Nelson Mandela."

Then it was back to the wars. The House Judiciary Committee will meet privately tomorrow to decide which portions of the remaining evidence from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr hold back from the public.

That evidence will include grand jury testimony from dozens of witnesses, including the president's secretary, Betty Currie; his friend Vernon Jordan; FBI agents; and numerous White House aides. It will be made public next week.

Also next week, the committee expects to discuss the strength of Starr's evidence, possibly the last meeting before it votes on whether to recommend a formal impeachment inquiry.

That inquiry now seems a foregone conclusion, despite White House efforts to head it off with proposals to censure and possibly fine Clinton instead of impeaching him.

"People need to allow the process to go forward in an orderly manner and not assume that they know what the final outcome will be either way," Gingrich said yesterday. "For anybody to talk about doing anything, until we finish the investigative process, simply puts the cart before the horse."

Even Democrats conceded yesterday that their overtures had fallen on deaf ears. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a moderate Connecticut Democrat, said, "I don't see any inclination in the House majority to short-circuit the constitutional process."

While insisting that they are cooperating with the Democrats, Republicans showed little sign of compromise. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Henry J. Hyde, flatly rejected Democratic demands for a fixed timetable to resolve the Lewinsky matter, saying that any deadline would encourage the president's allies to delay and run out the clock.

"I don't support time lines," Hyde said. "I support moving as swiftly as we fairly can."

Indeed, Republican Judiciary Committee members accused Democrats of speaking out of both sides of their mouth -- first accusing Republicans of rushing toward impeachment with an unfair public airing of Starr's evidence, then asserting that Republicans planned to drag out the drama unfairly.

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