Judiciary panel sets inquiry vote Impeachment ballot in the House could follow in early Oct.

'Most expeditious schedule'

Democrats, GOP spar over release of Tripp tapes, other evidence

September 25, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman and David Folkenflik | Jonathan Weisman and David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writer Susan Baer contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- With Republicans moving in unison, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said yesterday that his panel would vote Oct. 5 or 6 on whether to begin the third presidential impeachment inquiry in U.S. history, with a landmark House vote to follow days later.

House Republicans are proceeding with remarkable speed, two

weeks after receiving independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report outlining 11 allegations -- including perjury and obstruction of justice -- that could be worthy of impeachment. With the public leaning against impeachment and Democrats resisting him, Rep. Henry J. Hyde, the Judiciary Committee chairman, said the House must "not get sidetracked by attempts to cut deals or cry wolf about partisanship."

"The foundation of our legal system is based on telling the truth," the Illinois Republican declared, dismissing suggestions that perjury might not be a crime serious enough to justify impeachment.

The announcement of a timetable came as Democrats and Republicans bickered over the release of more of Starr's evidence and President Clinton sought support from a key loyal bloc, African-Americans in Congress.

In particular dispute is the release of 27 audiotapes of conversations between Monica Lewinsky and her former friend Linda R. Tripp in which Lewinsky describes a sexual relationship with the president. Those tapes launched the presidential sex scandal after Tripp delivered them to the independent counsel.

Some Republicans fear that the tapes could elicit sympathy for the president by portraying Tripp as a manipulative woman who coaxed Lewinsky into alleging that Clinton urged her to lie and tried to find a job for her to buy her silence. Lewinsky disavowed those accusations in her testimony before the Starr grand jury.

Some Democrats said Republicans were being inconsistent in refusing to release all the Tripp tapes, noting that Republicans had insisted on releasing all of Clinton's videotaped grand jury testimony to illustrate the president's demeanor and tone.

"The Republicans want to take all the exculpatory information out" of the tapes, said Rep. Martin T. Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. "The president has been railroaded enough without having all the exculpatory information kept from the public."

Hyde countered that the Tripp tapes contained discussions that would unfairly impugn innocent people and were full of irrelevant and salacious details. Republicans are likely to release written transcripts with sections deleted, Hyde said.

Republican timetable

The Judiciary Committee will meet privately today to decide how to release the tapes and thousands of pages of grand jury testimony by Tripp; Clinton's secretary, Betty Currie; his friend and confidant Vernon Jordan; and Secret Service and FBI agents and White House aides.

Those documents will be made public late next week. On Thursday or Friday, committee attorneys will brief panel members on Starr's evidence and set up a historic vote on convening impeachment hearings.

"Like all Americans, I want to bring this matter to closure as soon as possible," Hyde said. "The timetable I have proposed today is the most expeditious schedule we can follow."

Democrats reacted furiously to Hyde's announcement. They said they had not been consulted on the schedule and had been rebuffed on demands for a separate hearing on whether Starr's accusations are impeachable offenses.

Also at issue was Hyde's suggestion that Lewinsky might not be called to testify before an impeachment proceeding because he was inclined to believe her grand jury testimony. Other Republicans hinted that Starr would not be called to testify.

"I'm beginning to think this is going to be a pretty quick hearing," said Rep. Barney Frank, a Judiciary Committee Democrat. "We can't hear from Monica Lewinsky. We can't hear from Ken Starr. They don't want to hear from Bill Clinton. What are we going to do at this hearing, play records?"

Later, Hyde released another statement backing away from his suggestion that Lewinsky would not testify. Hyde said no decisions have been made on how to conduct the hearings.

Partisanship could undermine the case for impeachment by undercutting public support, even as Republicans try to bolster their legal arguments. Democrats appear to be winning the battle for public opinion with their complaints that Republicans are being unfair, that the president is being hounded and that House Speaker Newt Gingrich is orchestrating Clinton's downfall.

Clinton's standing with the public has rebounded since the release of his grand jury testimony, and there are signs of a backlash against the Republican-led Congress, the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll shows.

GOP moderates uneasy

A handful of Republican moderates has expressed unease about proceeding full-tilt toward impeachment, as many conservative colleagues are urging. Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut has said Starr's allegations do not warrant the removal of the president.

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