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Whitewater Probe Sets Off Shouting Match in Senate

May 17, 1996|ROBERT L. JACKSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — A Senate Whitewater Committee hearing erupted into a partisan shouting match Thursday over efforts to confirm that the fingerprints of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton were found on long-sought law firm billing records.

The furor arose when Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) proposed that the FBI be subpoenaed to produce its laboratory analysis of the law firm records, which reportedly carry the first lady's prints.

D'Amato said the subpoena is necessary because independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who is investigating the sudden appearance last January of the subpoenaed documents, refused a request by the panel to furnish his FBI analysis.

"Let's not drag the FBI into this," exclaimed Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.), the committee's ranking minority member, interrupting D'Amato in mid-sentence. "We should deal with Mr. Starr. The FBI agents are working for him. I don't want to drag the FBI into a political situation."

"Don't raise your voice to me, senator," D'Amato rejoined. "We're not getting a satisfactory resolution from the independent counsel."

As both senators angrily tried to make points at the same time, Sarbanes shouted: "Leave the FBI out of it!" He argued that subpoenaing the FBI would put its director, Louis J. Freeh, in an "untenable position" because his agents have been on loan to Starr.

"I'm sorry you're interpreting it that way," D'Amato said, banging his gavel for order. "Nobody's talking about politics except yourself. I think you cry too much."

D'Amato finally relented by saying that the subpoena would be sent to Starr, with the option of sending one later to Freeh. Legal experts said such subpoenas would be of dubious legality because Starr's grand jury inquiry is constitutionally protected from outside influence.

"I have to believe this is an effort to stall these hearings, for whatever reason," D'Amato said, glaring at Sarbanes. He noted that the committee must conclude its investigation by June 14 under terms of a Senate vote taken last month.

The panel, as well as Starr, has been trying to determine if anyone at the White House deliberately withheld billing records of Hillary Clinton's former Little Rock law firm. The records were subpoenaed by authorities two years ago.

Copies of the records suddenly appeared in the White House last January, outside the first lady's private office. Although no one in the White House has been able to explain where the documents had been, Republicans have charged that the first lady might have deliberately concealed them, an accusation that she has repeatedly denied.

Meanwhile, in federal court in Little Rock, a jury began deliberating the Whitewater-related fraud and conspiracy case against the Clintons' former business partner, James B. McDougal; his ex-wife Susan; and Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, who succeeded President Clinton as governor of Arkansas.

The president gave videotaped testimony on behalf of the defendants, but neither his conduct nor that of Hillary Clinton is at issue.

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