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D'Amato Ends Senate Investigation Into Whitewater

Politics: He says probes should be up to special prosecutor. Some see attacks on president hurting senator's reelection.

November 09, 1996|SAM FULWOOD III | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — If moderation is now the best ticket to political survival in the era of divided government, there may be no greater personification of it than Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato.

The pugnacious New York Republican--best known for his vigorous hammering of the Clinton White House over Whitewater in the months before the election--is now going full throttle in the opposite direction. He is making nice.

Like D'Amato's other positionings, this one has attracted attention.

"He certainly puts himself all-out into everything he does," says an admiring Frank Coleman, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "At the very least with D'Amato, you know where he stands and that's a part of his appeal with the people of New York."

One day after Republican Bob Dole was defeated by President Clinton, D'Amato, an early and influential Dole supporter, told reporters at a news conference that he would not resume the Senate Whitewater investigation that he had led through the spring and summer.

"It's not the time to be looking at investigations, either by the Banking Committee or any other," D'Amato said. "We should leave that in the hands of the special prosecutor and shouldn't be attempting to substitute our judgment. . . . There are appropriate authorities to look into wrongdoings."

Clinton welcomed the olive branch at his news conference Friday.

"I was encouraged by what Sen. D'Amato said," Clinton told reporters gathered in the White House East Room. "We'll have to see what happens. I very much hope it'll be that way."

A number of political analysts have noted that D'Amato's attacks on Clinton did not seem to be improving his position for his own reelection campaign in 1998.

In carrying New York, Clinton won 59% of the popular vote, despite D'Amato's vocal opposition. Exit polls in the state by the Voters News Service showed a 59% disapproval rating for D'Amato.

D'Amato, who rose from the powerful Nassau County Republican organization to win his Senate seat, remains an influential voice in the state and has been reelected twice. But he would be a prime target for a Democratic challenge.

With moderation and bipartisan cooperation more popular concepts, Democrats would be eager to portray the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee chairman as a partisan Whitewater warrior.

During the committee's hearings this year, Democrats called attention to his role as a top Dole campaign official and accused him of using the inquiry to damage Dole's opponent.

D'Amato also drew criticism for helping to limit access to the New York primary ballot among Dole's Republican competition.

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