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House Inquiry May Expand Beyond Lewinski Incidents

By Richard A. Serrano
Los Angeles Times

The House Republican who will preside over any hearings on the fate of President Clinton set a speedy timetable Thursday for opening a formal impeachment inquiry and announced that he may broaden his investigation to include matters beyond the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal.

Rep. Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., said he expects his House Judiciary Committee to vote Oct. 5 or 6 and the full House to vote by Oct. 9 on whether to convene hearings to determine if Clinton committed perjury or obstructed justice in concealing his sexual liaisons with the former White House intern and, if so, whether he should be impeached.

But whether the House inquiry will expand beyond the Lewinsky matter depends on what the committee receives from the office of Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr, Hyde said. It could encompass other White House controversies - such as the Clintons' involvement in the Whitewater real estate development in Arkansas before his presidency, irregularities with confidential FBI files and the firing of the White House travel office staff.

"We want to hear anything and everything - good, bad, indifferent, exculpatory, accusatory - that bears on the main question," Hyde said. "There may be other matters that we feel bear on the main question of the fitness of the president for this office."

At the White House, presidential spokesman Mike McCurry cautioned that the public may chastise Hyde for moving too quickly and unfairly and he warned that the committee's work so far has raised "quite legitimate concerns about the way in which politics intersects with these proceedings."

And House Democrats, who prefer public hearings before any inquiry is launched, decried the Hyde committee for not seeking testimony from Starr or Lewinsky before moving ahead with a full House vote.

"This is an effort to run out the clock before the election," charged Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., a leading Judiciary panel member. "They're trying to make the president look bad and their side good. The Republican position is totally hypocritical."

Hyde announced the House timetable at a news conference in the Judiciary Committee room, flanked by two large portraits - one of himself, the other of former Rep. Peter J. Rodino, D-N.J., who chaired the committee during the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration. Hyde's portrait had been unveiled only a day earlier.

"The reason I have called this meeting is for you all to admire the picture up there," he joked to reporters, a finger aimed at the painting of himself.

But the allusion was not lost on anyone. Republicans and Democrats have continually pointed to the Watergate hearings as a model for bipartisan action during an impeachment process.

Hyde and his boss, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., realize they need Democratic support for an impeachment review to overcome public opinion polls that give high ratings to Clinton and low ratings to GOP leaders in Congress.