WASHINGTON -- The pace of the impeachment inquiry against President Clinton will be determined by how readily potential witnesses cooperate, Republican leaders of the House Judiciary Committee said yesterday.
If Clinton and other figures in the Monica Lewinsky scandal simply attest to the truth of the details set out in the report of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, the committee can carry out its work much more quickly, said Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde of Illinois.
"We're fighting the clock," said Hyde, who has pledged to try to wrap up the impeachment hearings by the end of the year.
White House Counsel Charles F. C. Ruff is expected to begin discussing the issue early next week with the panel's Republican chief counsel, David P. Schippers, according to presidential spokesman Joe Lockhart. The two lawyers will begin to sort out which information the president will confirm.
"We intend to go up and get a sense of where the committee's going before we decide" how much to cooperate, Lockhart told reporters.
If Clinton and other witnesses do not comply sufficiently, committee members said, the panel might have to call on a cast of now-familiar characters -- such as Lewinsky, her former friend, Linda R. Tripp, and presidential secretary Betty Currie.
Hyde said he did not yet have a formal list of people to depose or subpoena, but that he did not think Lewinsky would have to testify publicly about her sexual relationship with the president.
Democrats appear intent on serving a subpoena to Starr himself, a desire that Hyde said he was willing to indulge. "You don't have a judicial proceeding and not have the prosecutor appear," said Rep. Martin T. Meehan, a Massachusetts Democrat.
But Hyde and other judiciary panel Republicans said Democrats should not aim simply to punish Starr for his 4 1/2 -year investigation of Clinton.
"Every prosecutor who has ever prosecuted a case in court has been attacked," said Rep. Asa Hutchinson, an Arkansas Republican. "The question is whether there is a legitimate basis to review the behavior of the prosecution."
Hyde and other senior Republicans resisted a bipartisan effort to start the impeachment hearings quickly, saying that they did not want to appear to be exploiting the hearings for political effect so close to the Nov. 3 elections.
Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, a committee Democrat, argued that the Republicans had opened themselves to Democratic charges of dragging out the process by rejecting a quick start.