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House Judiciary Committee Drops Fund-Raising Inquiry

By Richard A. Serrano and Edwin Chen
Los Angeles Times

The House Judiciary Committee abruptly dropped plans on Thursday to include campaign financing in its impeachment inquiry, with the panel's chairman declaring that there is "more than adequate" information in the Clinton-Lewinsky matter to merit a continued push toward impeachment.

In addition, the Senate majority leader gave his first indication that "it would be very hard not to" have a Senate trial to consider removing President Clinton from office if he is impeached by the full House.

The swiftly moving developments signal that should the House approve any articles of impeachment, a Senate trial may quickly follow.

Rep. Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House panel, said in a letter to the White House that, after reviewing sealed Justice Department memos regarding campaign fund-raising irregularities, his committee will take up those matters only after it decides whether Clinton should forfeit his office for allegedly lying and obstructing justice in attempting to conceal his affair with Monica S. Lewinsky.

"We will work with other committees of the House to get to the bottom of these lingering charges," Hyde pledged. "We are far from satisfied that existing campaign finance laws have not been violated."

He added that campaign fund raising will be a "top oversight priority" in the new Congress that convenes in January.

"In the meantime," he wrote, "we feel that there is more than adequate information before the committee to pursue the debate leading to articles of impeachment."

Democrats and White House officials were clearly pleased that the fund-raising matter was being dropped. But some still questioned the Republicans' rationale for bringing it up in the first place, since two other congressional committees already have studied the matter and Attorney General Janet Reno has refused to seek an independent counsel to review it.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., a committee member, said he thought the fund-raising off-shoot was a fool's errand all along.

"I expected it," he said of the Hyde decision to scrap the fund-raising inquiry. "It was obviously just a bone that he was throwing to his extremists in the committee."

The White House is to present its case on Tuesday, and Clinton's lawyers have said that they may call their own witnesses. The committee directed the White House Thursday to submit its witness list Friday, adding that the Republican-led committee will determine which witnesses are allowed to testify.

After the White House presentation, lawyers for both sides of the committee will argue the evidence. The panel will then debate and vote on proposed articles of impeachment.

Should the matter clear the committee, the full House would probably take up the issue the following week. Both parties continued furious, behind-the-scenes head-counting Thursday in an attempt to predict how the full House might come down on Clinton's fate.

The full House vote appears to be a nail biter. Lawmakers said the strongest case for impeachment seemed to be allegations of perjury, with charges of obstruction of justice and witness tampering receiving less support.