The Senate Whitewater Committee ended 14 months of meetings Tuesday on a partisan note as Democrats voted against giving congressional immunity to President Clinton’s chief accuser, David Hale, thus blocking Republican hopes for his televised testimony.
With the panel scheduled to issue its final report early next week, Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato, R-N.Y., the chairman, told reporters it will probably recommend the criminal prosecution of several administration figures.
Although D’Amato refused to elaborate, committee sources said Republicans may press for perjury investigations of deputy White House chief of staff Harold M. Ickes and two longtime confidantes of first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton - her chief of staff, Margaret Williams, and New York lawyer Susan Thomases.
Democratic sources on the committee scoffed at the idea.
Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., said, ‘The committee owes the public a substantive report after a year of hearings, but this is a play for titillation instead.”
A vote to grant immunity from prosecution to Hale for his testimony to the committee fell four votes short of a two-thirds majority needed for passage. All 10 GOP committee members voted in favor, and all eight Democrats voted against.
“He’s weaseling, bamboozling and working hard to cut a deal,” said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. “I am not willing to reward a scumbag.”
Republicans accused the Democrats of helping cover up Whitewater.
Hale, a former Arkansas banker, testified at the Little Rock, Ark., federal trial that resulted in last month’s conspiracy and fraud convictions of Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and President Clinton’s Whitewater investment partners James B. McDougal and Susan McDougal. Hale has said Clinton improperly pressured him to make a $300,000 loan to Susan McDougal and some of the money was funneled into the troubled Whitewater real-estate project. Clinton has denied the allegation.
Thomases was called to testify four times, and Republicans were openly skeptical about her inability to recall details about her numerous calls and visits to the White House immediately after Vincent Foster’s death. Her lawyer, Benito Romano, said she “testified truthfully, to the best of her ability.”
D’Amato has sharply criticized Ickes, a longtime political foe of D’Amato, for his inability to recall a 25-page memo he commissioned for Hillary Clinton on her civil legal exposure due to her legal work for her Whitewater partner’s savings and loan.
Ickes’ lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, called the possibility of a criminal referral “cheap shot partisan nonsense.” Ickes, he said, answered committee questions “fully and completely and honestly.”
Edward S.G. Dennis, Jr., a Philadelphia attorney who represents Williams, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the committee attacked his client, “despite the fact that my client passed two lie-detector tests - one administered by the independent counsel - about her truthfulness.”