Hatch proposes special congressional panel to investigate Justice Department
By Dana Bash/CNN
September 21, 1999
Web posted at: 6:19 p.m. EDT (2219 GMT)
WASHINGTON -- Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) is proposing a special Senate task force to look into "whether the Justice Department is serving the American people as it should."
Hatch pitched his idea for a five-person task force at a bipartisan meeting Tuesday afternoon with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania).
Sen. Orrin Hatch
The committee staff has already begun work on looking into the Waco matter, but Hatch says he would like to expand the scope of the inquiry to look at how the Justice Department has handled other matters, such as plea bargains on issues relating to campaign finance irregularities and a potential security breach at the Los Alamos nuclear lab.
"I want to expand Waco to look into the Justice Department and its failure to act appropriately in all those instances," said Hatch.
Asked if this was specifically an investigation of Attorney General Janet Reno and her performance, Hatch replied, "Many decisions made there have been questionable."
"The attorney general has been asleep at the switch while the White House runs the Justice Department," he said.
Hatch said the task force, which he says Lott supports, would be led by Specter and consist of two other Republicans and two Democrats. Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-South Carolina) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) who both chair oversight subcommittees would be the Republicans.
He presumed the ranking Democrats on those committees -- Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-New Jersey) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) -- would represent their party.
Daschle and Leahy, who is the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said they were going to regroup to discuss Hatch's proposal with other Democrats. But Leahy told reporters his initial reaction was that the inquiry could be too broad.
"We could have the scope going back to the Kennedy assassination - how many gunmen there were," said Leahy.
He also said this was clearly a way to try to get to Reno, who Leahy claims has long been a punching bag for Republicans.
"Many treat this as a way as getting to her [Reno]," he said.
Leahy criticized the GOP leadership for launching so many investigations, saying he thinks members of Congress still can't believe they couldn't throw Clinton out of office.
"I've never been in a Congress that's done more investigations than we've done in the last two to three years," he said. "It's one of the reasons why we haven't done any of our work, we haven't passed any of our appropriations bills, we don't confirm judges."
Hatch said if Democrats reject his idea for a task force, the full Judiciary Committee will go ahead and investigate the matters themselves as part of its oversight duties.
He said he hopes Democrats will go along with the idea because Specter is independent and has an understanding of the issues.
"Specter would do a good job," he said.
The Judiciary chairman claims the task force would move more quickly and would be less costly than a full committee investigation. It would be funded with money from the committee.
Hatch said he has been talking to former Sen. John Danforth, the special investigator for the outside Waco investigation, and says their staff will have a meeting this week. He insists that Congress has jurisdiction over the matter, regardless of what Danforth and his independent investigation pursues.