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Partisan battle erupts over possible release of Clinton's videotaped testimony

Gephardt, Daschle rip White House defense strategy

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, September 15) -- A battle is brewing in the House Judiciary Committee as Republican and Democratic members are at odds over releasing the videotaped version of President Bill Clinton's grand jury testimony. This latest bad news for the White House comes on the heels of tough criticism from two top Democratic leaders over the president's defense strategy.

And as Congress continues to digest the 445-page Starr report outlining potentially impeachable offenses by Clinton, Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) has introduced a resolution that would require the president to pay for the cost of the grand jury probe into the Monica Lewinsky matter.

Also in this story:

Clinton's videotaped testimony could be made public by the end of the week as Republican majority is expected to prevail in the dispute. Despite their opposition, a Democratic source noted, "We'll probably get rolled by the end of the week."

Most Democrats oppose release of the tape because, as one said, "We don't want CNN and others to put it into the endless loop." The transcript, they say, should be sufficient.

Clinton, Starr

The White House strongly opposes the move as well. White House and congressional sources tell CNN there are several angry exchanges between Clinton and Independent Counsel Ken Starr's prosecutors that could cast the president in an unfavorable light if his videotaped testimony is released by Congress.

Democrats will argue it is unfair to release the president's videotaped testimony because no other witnesses were recorded. A source charged Starr recorded it for the "sole purpose" of sending it to Capitol Hill so it can be released to embarrass the president. There was "no practical rationale" for the taping, said the source.

"The House is going to have to employ the video however they see fit. We just hope it's not misused," said White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry at his daily briefing.

McCurry also announced the White House has added a State Department official to the team handling the Starr report.

Gregory Craig will become assistant to the president and special counsel. "Mr. Craig will quarterback the response to the (Starr) referral," McCurry said at his regular briefing Tuesday.

Clinton lost his temper during questioning

The president testified in the Lewinsky investigation on August 17. Prosecutors questioned him at the White House and the president's testimony was transmitted live to the grand jury room at the federal courthouse.

A White House source familiar with the president's testimony tells CNN, "He lost his temper a few times at the line of questioning. It won't look good."

A congressional source intimately involved in the Democratic Judiciary Committee strategy said the angry episodes are evident even in the written transcript, but "wouldn't be helpful to the president" if released on video. Said the source, "Some of it shows his temper, the anger; some of it is just embarrassing."

Clinton complained during his sworn testimony that Starr's prosecutors were "trying to criminalize my private life." At one point during the testimony he became so upset at the questioning that the parties took a nearly hour-long break.

Lewinsky lawyers meet with committee lawyers

Meanwhile, Lewinsky's attorneys, Plato Cacheris and Jacob Stein, paid a visit to the House Judiciary committee's top lawyers, David Schippers and Abbe Lowell, Tuesday.

The attorneys talked about procedures they would follow if and when the committee wanted to hear from Lewinsky, sources said.

The lawyers spent most of the session discussing possible deletion of material from the transcripts that are ultimately released to the public by the committee. Sources say attention was paid to Lewinsky's graphic descriptions of her sexual relationship with Clinton.

Other congressional sources say negotiations between the two parties over redactions include efforts to take out the more explicit details.

Judiciary committee becomes increasingly tense, partisan

While House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and the panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), remain publicly committed to bipartisanship, Republican and Democratic sources talk of an increasingly tense and partisan atmosphere.

This, said one source, is "going to make campaign finance look like a model of cordiality," referring to the bickering that has often gridlocked Rep. Dan Burton's House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.

Democratic and Republican Judiciary Committee lawyers have managed to reach a general consensus on what else in the 2,600 pages of appendices to the Starr report should be made public, though sources on both sides said there were several remaining disputes over the release of some additional graphic sexual material and sections of testimony in which names not viewed as central to the report's allegations are raised.

The Judiciary Committee, which deals with many hot-button political issues, is known for its partisanship.

Hyde is often thought of as fair and judicious, but still, less than a week after the process began on Capitol Hill, a Democrat complained, "It's increasingly clear Henry can't control them (other Republicans) or that he doesn't want to."

Senator wants Clinton to pay for probe

While Capitol Hill continues its consideration of impeachment proceedings, Murkowski is proposing that Clinton reimburse the nation for the cost of the grand jury probe.

Just how much has the Lewinsky phase of Starr's four-year investigation cost the taxpayers?

The price tag, according to the independent counsel's office, is close to $4.4 million, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. Of that, $1.86 million is for personnel costs, $950,000 for travel and $884,000 for consultants.

Murkowski requested and received the estimate from Starr's office. "It's the duty of the Senate to discuss the costs that have been borne by the American people as result of a calculated deception by the president," he said.

Those preliminary estimates just cover the past eight months and do not include any of Starr's future costs. The figures cover the time between January 15, the day his office got permission to expand the Whitewater investigation to include the Lewinsky allegations, and August 31.

Not calculated are the costs the Clinton Administration has spent fighting the allegations.

Over the past several months the White House has repeatedly attacked Starr for spending $40 million during his four-year investigation.

Top Democrats rip Clinton's defense strategy

In statements Monday, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt took Clinton to task over how he has handled the aftermath of his affair with Lewinsky.

"I certainly agree with those who have grown impatient with hair-splitting over legal technicalities," Daschle said. "There is a basic understanding of the standard of truthfulness that the president failed to meet."

"The president and his advisers must accept that continued legal jousting serves no constructive purpose," Daschle said. "It simply stands in the way of what we need to do: move forward and let common sense guide us in doing what is best for the country.

"I question what purpose is served by additional exposure to the salacious details contained in the Starr report," Daschle added. "We must find a way to proceed and avoid further bombardment of the airwaves and Internet with such material."

Gephardt said Clinton "had a wholly inappropriate sexual relationship with a young White House intern and failed to be truthful about it. We must now consider the implications of his actions, seek the truth and render a judgment.

"One of the most important virtues of the American character is our ability to approach the complexities that life presents us with common sense and decency," Gephardt said. "The considered judgment of the American people is not going to rise or fall on the fine distinctions of a legal argument but on straight talk and the truth. It is time for the president and the Congress to follow that common sense for the good of the country."

The White House responded to the Democratic leaders' criticisms, referring to a statement the president made last week in which he said that he did not want his attorneys' legal maneuvering to mask his wrongdoing.

"The president has made clear that he does not want the work of his lawyers to get in the way of his admission that he had an improper relationship and he misled people to keep it private," said a statement read by Jim Kennedy, a spokesman for the White House Counsel's office. "No legalisms should obscure the fact that it was wrong, he apologized for it and he has asked for forgiveness."

CNN also has learned that some leading Democratic staffers are debating what punishment short of an impeachment inquiry could be created, something that in the words of one congressional attorney "doesn't impeach him for lying about sex but doesn't condone perjury either." Another source familiar with these nascent discussions called it "a search for censure-plus," but said it was "more a thought, an idea, a work in progress."

Clinton faces possible impeachment because of his actions in the aftermath of his admitted sexual affair with Lewinsky. On Friday, congressional leaders released Starr's 445-page report, which outlines 11 grounds for possible impeachment.

Clinton's lawyers, however, argue that none of the grounds justify impeachment and say Starr has failed to make a case.

Cohen: Clinton scandal not affecting military morale

Defense Secretary William Cohen expressed "disappointment" Tuesday with Clinton, but said his case is different than that of Air Force Lt. Kelly Flinn, who was forced to leave the military last year after lying about an adulterous affair.

Cohen said military people serve under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and noted that Clinton had to "go before the American people for their support on two successive elections, and that also is a very tough and grueling experience for anyone who seeks that office."

"The American people pass their judgment on the president in due course," Cohen said. "With respect to Kelly Flinn it was not only the relationship, but also the fact of the direct disobedience of an order, and that was also a factor involved there."

Cohen said he had no evidence that the presidential scandal has affected the morale of those in uniform.

CNN's Candy Crowley, Bob Franken, John King and Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

Investigating the President

MORE STORIES:

Tuesday, September 15, 1998

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