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Oversight Panel Accuses Clinton Of Travel Office Fiasco Cover-up

By Robert L. Jackson
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

With Democratic members staging a walkout, a Republican-controlled House committee Wednesday formally accused President Clinton of directing a widespread coverup of the 1993 White House travel office fiasco, including his wife's role in it.

At a stormy session at which members of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee tried to out-shout one another, Democrats accused the panel's chairman, Rep. William F. Clinger Jr., R-Pa., of abusing his power by making a politically motivated attack on the president in the midst of an election campaign.

The committee's report requires no further governmental action and ends the congressional inquiry into the firings of seven travel office employees. But the report is expected to be studied closely by the staff of Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who is investigating whether any White House aides gave false statements to Congress under oath in an effort to protect first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in the travel office case.

With 24 Republicans voting to endorse the report after Democrats stalked out of the hearing room, the committee issued a report alleging that Clinton "engaged in an unprecedented misuse of the executive power, abuse of executive privilege and obstruction of numerous investigations into the travel office."

The alleged coverup was intended to conceal from Congress why the travel office employees were abruptly fired in May 1993, the report said.

The committee said travel director Billy Ray Dale and his colleagues were dismissed so that Harry Thomason, a Hollywood producer friend of the Clintons, and Catherine Cornelius, a distant cousin of the president, could seek a share of the government's travel business. The report alleged that Clinton and White House aides engaged in "a colossal damage-control effort" - obstructing the committee's two-year inquiry and delaying release of key records to hide the motivation for the travel office purge.

The president and his aides also sought to conceal that Mrs. Clinton had pushed for the firings, at Thomason's urging, the report said. "White House aides initially withheld information about Mrs. Clinton's involvement in the firings," the committee charged.

The first lady has denied responsibility for the dismissals. And Mark D. Fabiani, special White House counsel, attacked the report as "shoddy and unprofessional," declaring that "today's McCarthy-like charges by the Newt Gingrich-led Republicans are as meaningless as they are political."

Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, the panel's ranking Democrat, said before leading the walkout that the report made "unsubstantiated character attacks in a shameful and crassly partisan smear campaign."

"I don't approve of everything the White House did, but where is the specific evidence of wrongdoing?" Waxman asked.

Rep. Paul E. Kanjorski, D-Pa., charged that Clinger and other Republicans were trying to "attain political rather than governmental objectives by attacking the character of the President of the United States with conclusions unsupported by any evidence."

Kanjorski said the report is indicative of a highly political atmosphere on Capitol Hill that should come to an end. "Like horses, we should take it out and shoot it," Kanjorski said of the GOP-controlled Congress.

In calling for approval of the report, Clinger said it "demonstrates the failures of the Clinton White House to live up to the ethical standards they themselves promised to maintain."

Washington attorney Robert S. Bennett complained Wednesday that Thomason, his client, was never given a chance to testify before the committee in public to respond to the allegations against him.