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Senate OKs Whitewater Resolution : Congress: Leaders of both parties reach agreement on when to hold hearings. Clinton aide Stephanopoulos is subpoenaed to testify.

March 18, 1994|MICHAEL ROSS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Senate, after weeks of fierce partisan wrangling, unanimously approved a resolution late Thursday calling for eventual congressional hearings into the Whitewater controversy.

The resolution, adopted 98 to 0, said simply that the leadership of both parties "should meet and determine the appropriate timetable, procedures and forum" for hearings into the matter.

In other Whitewater developments Thursday, White House adviser George Stephanopoulos was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury called by Robert B. Fiske Jr., the Whitewater special counsel.

In a brief statement Thursday night, Stephanopoulos said: "I welcome the opportunity to give Mr. Fiske the facts."

Seven White House aides now have been subpoenaed to make grand jury appearances.

Outgoing White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum appeared before the grand jury earlier in the day to answer questions about whether the Administration interfered with an investigation by the Resolution Trust Corp. into Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, the failed thrift linked to the Whitewater controversy.

Fiske is looking into allegations that President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton may have benefited improperly from their association during the late 1970s and 1980s with James B. McDougal, owner of the thrift and partner with the Clintons in a failed Ozark real estate investment known as Whitewater Development Corp.

Fiske also is investigating the role played by Mrs. Clinton and the Rose Law Firm in representing Whitewater and Madison Guaranty and the apparent suicide last July of Deputy White House Council Vincent Foster, who had worked on Whitewater as a Rose partner and later at the White House.

The Senate resolution was the result of a compromise worked out during day-long negotiations between Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) and Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.).

After intense negotiations, the Republicans agreed to drop their demand for immediate hearings after getting a commitment from the Democrats to permit them at a later, although unspecified, date.

That left both sides able to claim victory--with Republicans saying they had forced the Democrats to agree to hearings and the Democrats asserting that they were able to put them off until after Fiske finishes his investigation.

The non-binding resolution requires that the hearings "be structured and sequenced" so that they will not interfere with Fiske's investigation. Learning from a mistake made during the Iran-Contra hearings, it also pledged that no witnesses would be granted immunity in return for their testimony.

"The question is not whether there should be oversight hearings, but whether there should be oversight hearings when the special counsel has said they might undermine his investigation," Mitchell said.

Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.), ranking Republican on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, said he was satisfied because the agreement means that the Senate finally will investigate "the abuse of power" that he asserted Whitewater represents.

Earlier, an emotional D'Amato charged that the Democrats' refusal to consider hearings until Fiske had finished his investigation represented a political double standard. "If you'd had a Republican in the White House, you'd have had hearings at the drop of a hat," he thundered, punching the air with his fist, as he spoke on the Senate floor.

While Whitewater occupied center stage in the Senate, Fiske met with House GOP leaders in an effort to persuade them to delay plans to disclose information gathered by Republican investigators at a hearing next week.

The ranking Republican on the House Banking Finance and Urban Affairs Committee, Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa, repeated his contention that the hearing, tentatively scheduled for next Thursday, could turn out to be a "blockbuster" if all of the 40 witnesses he has requested are allowed to testify.

But Leach also complained that Chairman Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.) has not yet called any of the witnesses and other sources said that Gonzalez has indicated that he will not call them on the grounds that their testimony is irrelevant to the Resolution Trust Corp. oversight hearing scheduled by the committee.

Leach, who has been conducting his own investigation of Whitewater, has said that he has evidence senior officials of the RTC may have "coerced" field investigators examining the failure of Madison Guaranty.

Among the witnesses Republicans had hoped to call at the Banking Committee hearing are five investigators from the Kansas City RTC field office that was responsible for developing criminal referrals in the Madison Guaranty case.

Fiske told reporters after meeting with Leach and Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) that he had reiterated his objections to having witnesses testify before a congressional hearing until he has completed his criminal investigation.

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