Release near for Tripp tapes 'Inappropriate sexual, irrelevant' matters to be deleted first

And thousands more pages

House panel members clash over defining impeachable offenses

September 26, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writer Jonathan Weisman contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- The House Judiciary Committee voted yesterday to release an edited version of the taped conversations between Linda R. Tripp and Monica Lewinsky that triggered Kenneth W. Starr's investigation into the Lewinsky matter.

With Republicans joining the committee's Democrats, the panel voted to remove from the Tripp tapes material it said touched on "inappropriate sexual and otherwise irrelevant matters."

Additionally, the committee voted to delete such passages from thousands of pages of documents that are also scheduled for public release.

Most of the documents are expected to be released Thursday. But it may take longer to edit the Tripp-Lewinsky tapes. It is from those tapes that Starr first secured evidence that President Clinton might have lied in denying a sexual relationship with the former White House intern.

The other material to be distributed includes grand jury testimony by Clinton's secretary, Betty Currie; his friend, Vernon Jordan; Secret Service and FBI agents; and White House aides.

Republicans on the sharply divided panel portrayed the day as one of collaboration with occasional honest disagreement.

"I felt like we made progress because we listened to each other," said Rep. Asa Hutchinson, an Arkansas Republican.

But the two sides clashed on other questions that will dictate the scope of the impeachment inquiry the committee appears likely to approve next month.

Republicans rejected, for example, Democratic proposals to

define what constitutes an impeachable offense and to limit hearings to those alleged offenses. Republicans called such decisions premature.

Democrats complained that the deliberations yesterday were anything but bipartisan.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, said Republicans did not adhere to the principles of fairness set out by leading Democrats during the Watergate impeachment hearings on President Richard M. Nixon.

"They do not meet requirements of the Constitution, nor do they meet the standards of fairness set 24 years ago," she said.

By a strict party-line vote, Republicans on the panel also rejected a motion by Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the committee's senior Democrat, for a delegation of both parties to examine other materials held by Starr's office on the Lewinsky matter that were not sent to Congress.

Republicans complained that Democrats were seeking to fish into Starr's files in hopes of finding material that would discredit the prosecutor.

Clinton attorneys argued earlier this week that those documents may hold some information that would prove that Clinton did not break any laws.

In his report to Congress, Starr outlined what he said were 11 possible grounds for impeachment, largely charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

Some Republicans, notably Speaker Newt Gingrich, have indicated they would like to expand the inquiry beyond Clinton's efforts to conceal the nature of his relationship with Lewinsky to other matters.

Those include the first-term Clinton scandals known by the shorthand names of Whitewater, Travelgate and Filegate, as well as allegations that the 1996 Clinton campaign violated campaign finance laws.

"We're afraid this will get to the floor with no procedure, no structure, no boundaries," said Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. "That's a real problem."

Judiciary Committee aides said yesterday that the edited documents -- taken from some 60,000 pages and 72 hours of tapes -- are expected to be sent for publication to the Government Printing Office on Monday, and that they would be made available to the public on Thursday.

On Oct. 5 or 6, the committee is expected to vote to recommend to the full House that it should vote to hold impeachment hearings on Clinton.

Rep. Martin T. Meehan argued that Clinton's acts failed to reach impeachable offenses, but the Massachusetts Democrat said he was certain the House would vote to start the hearings.

Even so, Clinton appears to have gained confidence from recent polls showing his standing with the public remaining high and even rising a bit lately, and he has joined some Capitol Hill Democrats in trading sharp partisan barbs with Republican leaders.

The president complained, in particular, that the Republican-led Congress has failed to send him a budget plan or most of the appropriations bills necessary to finance the government for the fiscal year that begins Thursday.

"By failing to meet its most basic governing responsibility, the Republican majority has its priorities wrong -- partisanship over progress, politics over people," Clinton said yesterday while making a fund-raising appearance in Chicago.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott retorted: "Is he the fund-raiser in chief? Or is he the commander in chief? What he's trying to do is distract attention from his problems by trying to, you know, push the blame off on someone else."

At the same time, the president's private lawyers are trying to negotiate a cash settlement to short-circuit an appeal by Paula Corbin Jones, the former Arkansas state employee who contends that Clinton crudely propositioned her for sexual favors while he was governor.

Jones is seeking to have her dismissed sexual misconduct suit against Clinton reinstated on the grounds that Clinton lied during his deposition Jan. 17 in the Jones case when he denied having had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky.

Figures floated by the two sides range from $500,000 to $1 million, according to published reports, although Jones' lawyers refused to confirm publicly that any negotiations were occurring.

Among the items that the committee did not vote to release yesterday were documents from the Jones case that Starr had forwarded to the Judiciary Committee, including Clinton's deposition in the case.

Pub Date: 9/26/98

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