Hyde letter seeks facts Clinton is asked to 'admit or deny' 81 specific assertions

Effort to speed the inquiry

Judiciary chairman says Starr will be panel's major witness

November 06, 1998|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writer Jonathan Weisman contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- The Republican committee chairman conducting the House impeachment proceedings sent a letter to President Clinton yesterday, asking him to "admit or deny" 81 specific assertions in the Monica Lewinsky matter, including whether he gave "false and misleading testimony" under oath.

The chairman, Rep. Henry J. Hyde, who leads the Judiciary Committee, said the 10-page letter, which requests answers from Clinton in writing and under oath, is an effort to speed the Clinton impeachment inquiry by having the president simply agree to certain facts. His action comes two days after Republicans suffered a surprising setback from a voting public widely seen as fed up with the GOP-led impeachment drive.

Hyde said he was committed to completing the inquiry by the end of the year, something Democrats had been urging for weeks. The Illinois Republican denied that his party's dismal showing in Tuesday's election had created pressure to pare down the process, though Hyde has acknowledged that the momentum has gone out of the impeachment drive since the election.

The message from the election, Hyde said at a news conference in Chicago, was that "people are interested in other things. But that doesn't modify our duty under the Constitution or the law to proceed with what we've begun."

Hyde's letter to Clinton does not ask the president for any details about his sexual activities with Lewinsky. But the letter, denounced by some Democrats as a "perjury trap," poses a number of pointed questions. It asks Clinton, for example, whether he had discussed with Lewinsky how each would deny the existence of their relationship if ever asked about it. It also asks him whether he had testified that he did not recall giving gifts to Lewinsky "even though you actually had knowledge of giving her gifts."

Clinton is also asked whether he knew that two private investigators were "contacted or employed to make contact with or gather information about witnesses or potential witnesses" in any case involving the president.

The questions largely mirror the case laid out last month by the committee's chief Republican investigator, David Schippers, that detailed 15 possible grounds for impeachment, including witness tampering, concealing evidence and providing false testimony.

Hyde said Clinton is free to dispute whatever he wants. "But by agreeing to those facts that he does not dispute," Hyde said, "he will allow us to narrow the issues and bring this matter to a close more quickly."

Jim Kennedy, a spokesman for the White House counsel's office, said the president's lawyers were reviewing the letter and had not decided how to respond.

In a further effort to scale back the inquiry, Hyde announced yesterday that independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr would be asked to testify before the committee on Nov. 19 and would be the only major witness called.

Starr, who has been sought as a witness more by Democrats interested in reviewing his prosecutorial tactics, said through a spokesman yesterday that he "definitely" planned to appear before the committee.

Hyde did not rule out the possibility that other witnesses could be called. But he seemed disinclined to bring in some of the other key figures in the scandal, such as Lewinsky, Linda R. Tripp or Betty Currie, the president's secretary.

"I don't think we need to parade a lot of witnesses to repeat what they've already said under oath that is contained in a transcript of a grand jury or a deposition," Hyde said.

Joe Lockhart, the president's spokesman, said Hyde's expedited schedule was a "positive development." But he and other White House officials criticized the chairman for devising his plan without input from Democrats and before the Judiciary Committee had studied the grounds for an impeachable offense.

At the request of Democrats, Hyde has scheduled a hearing Monday on the history of impeachment, but it is only before a Judiciary subcommittee, not the full panel.

Clinton, responding to reports earlier in the day that Hyde was reining in the impeachment inquiry, said: "I want these hearings to be constitutional, fair and expeditious. The American people sent us a message that would break the eardrums of anyone who was listening. They want their business tended to. They are tired of seeing Washington focused on politics and personalities."

Hyde did not rule out the possibility that Congress would pursue a censure or rebuke of the president rather than impeachment. But he said such an alternative would likely be considered later, by the Senate, and only if the full House voted to pass articles of impeachment sent to it by the Judiciary Committee.

"If the bill of impeachment were to pass on the vote, then I think serious discussions might take place with the Senate," Hyde said.

While Democrats were pleased with Hyde's timetable, they were unhappy with his latest moves. Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, a Judiciary Committee Democrat, said the letter to Clinton was nothing but "sex, lies and videotape."

"My personal favorite is Page 4, Question 41: 'Do you admit or deny that you gave the following gifts to Monica Lewinsky at any time in the past? A large "Black Dog" canvas bag,' " Lofgren said, reading from the letter. "What's that got to do with whether the president has destroyed our constitutional system of government?"

Democrats also questioned Hyde's decision to call Starr as the sole witness.

"There are other witnesses we should hear from," said Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, a senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

Democrats had hoped to question Lewinsky so she could repeat her statement, this time under the klieg lights of the national news media, that nobody had asked her to lie or promised her a job in exchange for her sworn denial of a relationship with the president.

Pub Date: 11/06/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.