Republicans pressed ahead Wednesday for unlimited Senate Whitewater hearings, but Democrats temporarily blocked them by refusing to show up for a meeting.
Overriding the Democrats’ proposal to limit extension of the Senate inquiry to five weeks, the Banking Committee voted 9-7 to continue the probe indefinitely.
Democrats then boycotted a meeting of the Rules Committee, leaving Republicans one short of a quorum - with Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole campaigning in South Carolina.
“It is now obvious that the Democrats are afraid of letting the American people find out the facts about Whitewater,” said Whitewater Committee chairman Alfonse D’Amato.
With authorization for the Whitewater probe about to expire, Republicans want to take the resolution to the full Senate today. Democrats have threatened a filibuster. With the Republican-Democratic split at 53-47, Democrats could block debate on the resolution if no one breaks ranks.
Asked about that threat, Dole said, “If they want Whitewater to be the total focus of the Senate, that’s fine with us.”
D’Amato suggested the panel’s work might be completed six to eight weeks after the end of a Whitewater criminal trial in Arkansas. The trial starts March 4.
Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, said the congressional investigation must continue because “the White House has not leveled” with Capitol Hill.
“I have to believe … documents are still being withheld,” said D’Amato, who is also chairman of the Banking Committee. Republicans cited the sudden emergence last month of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s billing records from her work for the S&L; at the center of Whitewater - records first subpoenaed by prosecutors two years ago.
But Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said those who favor prolonging the hearings have “a preoccupation” with “Gotcha!”
And Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., complained that committee Republicans want to talk to “every 10th person in the Arkansas phone directory.”
“There are quite a few names in the Arkansas phone book who are material witnesses,” replied Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo. “This is a wide-ranging criminal” conspiracy.
Meanwhile, the White House released results of a poll, conducted for the Clinton presidential campaign, that said just 20 percent of the people questioned favored an additional $600,000 for D’Amato’s Whitewater investigation. Seventy-four percent of the 800 people polled opposed the additional money, concluded the poll by Penn & Schoen Associates.
The poll also said 66 percent considered the D’Amato hearings “politically driven to try to discredit the president by keeping old stories in the news as the election season approaches.”
Separately, the Nation magazine reported that Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr failed to disclose that his law firm was sued for negligence by federal regulators for the firm’s role representing a failed Colorado thrift, First America Savings Bank.
The magazine - calling the circumstances a conflict of interest - reported that the suit was settled with an agreement that saved the firm, Kirkland & Ellis of Washington, $700,000. Starr is a senior partner in the firm. Starr’s office has been investigating RTC officials’ handling of Whitewater matters.