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House Rules Committee Sets Review of Clinton in Motion

By Edward Walsh
and Juliet Eilperin
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

A House committee set in motion Thursday night the process that could lead to President Clinton's impeachment, and in an atmosphere filled with political and personal uncertainty approved a recommendation that the full House immediately make public independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report on Clinton's sexual relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky.

By a voice vote, the House Rules Committee set the stage for a vote on the House floor today and the likely disclosure of the 445-page report by Friday afternoon.

The Rules Committee vote, the first tentative step in what could be a lengthy process spilling over well into next year, came amid mounting fears among House Democrats over the potential political fallout from the contents of Starr's report and expressions of gravity by Republicans about the implications of taking the first step.

"This is a very grave day for the House of Representatives; indeed it is a solemn day for the nation," said Rules Committee Chairman Gerald B.H. Solomon, R-N.Y.

But the prevailing mood in the House Thursday was one of uncertainty, about the contents of the Starr report and the related material he delivered to Congress and the impact of this on the November midterm elections and ultimately on the fate of the Clinton presidency. All that was clear was that Republicans, who pledged to conduct fair and nonpartisan proceedings, were in control of the proceedings and that the Democrats were on the defensive and skeptical of GOP pledges.

Rules Committee Democrats unsuccessfully sought to give Clinton and his lawyers 48 hours to review the Starr report before it is made public. But even before the vote they acknowledged that they had little hope of prevailing in the committee or on the House floor Friday.

The panel also recommended that the full House Judiciary Committee be given until Sept. 28 to review 18 boxes of related material that Starr's office delivered to Congress to determine how much of it should be made public.

With Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., and the committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, sitting in witness chairs, the Rules Committee convened late Thursday afternoon in a solemn atmosphere.

"This is a very sad duty, but it is a duty and we must do it," said Rep. John Linder, R-Ga.

There were partisan differences from the beginning as both Conyers and Rep. Joe Moakley of Massachusetts, ranking Democrat on the Rules Committee, argued for giving Clinton and his lawyers an advance look at the Starr report before it is made public. Noting that House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., was given seven days to review an ethics committee report on some of his activities, Conyers said it was a "breach of fairness" to tell the president that "he can find out what the charges are on the Internet."

Democrats also charged that the Rules Committee resolution violated an agreement reached earlier by Gingrich and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., to confine the initial inspection of the additional material from Starr to Hyde, Conyers and their staffs rather than the full committee.

Despite Democrats' objections to the Rules Committee resolution, Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said it was unlikely that they would oppose it when it reaches the House floor.

The recommendation that the full House is scheduled to vote on today would empower the Judiciary Committee to determine whether a formal impeachment inquiry into Clinton's conduct is justified. There appears to be growing sentiment in the House to resolve that threshold question before Congress adjourns for the year, now scheduled for Oct. 9. But as a practical matter, an impeachment inquiry itself would not begin until the next Congress takes office in January.

There is also strong sentiment, even among some Democrats, to release as much information as possible so that House members and their constituents know what they are dealing with before the November elections.

"We want it open, we want it fair, we want it expeditious and we want it done now so we can end it once and for all," said Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass.

Under the Rules Committee recommendation, the initial disclosure to the public of Starr's evidence against Clinton stemming from the president's relationship with former White House intern Lewinsky will be in Starr's report. But some of the most sensitive information, including transcripts of grand jury testimony and other material to back up Starr's allegations, is in the other material that Starr submitted to Congress. Under yesterday's resolution, it will be reviewed by the Judiciary Committee members to determine what should be made public and what should remain secret to protect people who were caught up in the Starr investigation.

Solomon said the Sept. 28 deadline for deciding what to disclose was later than he and other Republicans wanted, but that Hyde persuaded him that that much time was needed for the review.