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Thompson Lays Out Scope Of Campaign Finance Probe

By Thomas H. Moore/AllPolitics

thompson

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Jan. 28) -- Sen. Fred Thompson, the new chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, today outlined the scope of the investigation his committee will conduct on the campaign finance activities of the 1996 elections. (224K AIFF or WAV sound)

But the Tennessee Republican told those hoping for quick hearings that the committee's job "is not to do it early, it's to do it right."

If Thompson intends to call President Bill Clinton in for questioning, he didn't say. But he certainly didn't slam the door on the possibility. He mentioned in passing that earlier in the century, President Theodore Roosevelt had testified before Congress in a probe concerning corporate campaign contributions.

In a speech delivered on the Senate floor, Thompson outlined some specific areas his committee would investigate:

  • Whether the presidential campaigns and national political parties engaged in any illegal or improper campaign activities or were given illegal donations.
  • Whether executive branch employees upheld the law regarding the separation of government duties and political work.
  • Whether the presidential campaigns remained independent from outside groups.
  • Whether any U.S. policies or national security decisions were affected by donations or by misbehavior of any current or former executive branch employees.
  • Whether and how the existing campaign finance system should be revised.
  • Whether and how other laws, such as those that govern the behavior of federal employees, should be revised.

Thompson said his panel would not revisit any specific allegations that Congress has already considered.

He said prospects for a short, smooth and bipartisan investigation rely primarily on how well the Clinton White House chooses to cooperate. But he said the "grudging release of information" in the past gave him "little reason to be optimistic."(160K AIFF or WAV sound)

In his press conference Tuesday afternoon, Clinton pledged to aid Thompson's probe. "I have instructed everybody here to fully cooperate with him," Clinton said. "My new counsel, Mr. Ruff, is going to meet with Senator Thompson and the appropriate people and we will be fully cooperative," he said.

"I'm confident that any investigations will reveal what I said," Clinton declared, "that the vast majority of people who give do so well within the law and with the best of motives; they really believe in what they're doing."

For his part, Thompson said he would make the investigation as bipartisan as possible. But he sent a warning to those hoping for a guarantee of equal time spent discussing Republican campaign violations. "Our work will include any improper activities by Republicans, Democrats or other political partisans," he said. "It is of extreme importance that our investigation and our hearings be perceived by the American people as being fair and even-handed."

"This does not mean that we must strain to create some false balance, or that we have some sort of party quota system. It simply means letting the chips fall where they may," he told the Senate.

Thompson later pledged to protect the rights of the committee's minority Democrats. "If legitimate disagreement arises as to priorities, the majority will in no way limit the minority's rights to investigate any and all matters within the jurisdiction of the committee," he said. "Moreover, the minority will be given the opportunity to call witnesses in for public hearings if we cannot agree upon a joint witness list."

Several things stand in the way of prompt hearings, Thompson said. He noted that he had just assumed control of the committee less than three weeks ago, and that much of the staff was brand new -- and that there were still some vacancies.

Thompson said that in the past, the norm had been three to four months of investigating and organizing before hearings commenced. "That's not to say that it will necessarily take us that long," he said. "I'm hopeful that it will not. But it takes whatever it takes," he said, banging the podium for emphasis.


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