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GOP to Expand Impeachment Witness List

November 18, 1998|RICHARD A. SERRANO and MARC LACEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — With the clock ticking down to Thursday's impeachment hearing, House Judiciary Committee Republicans decided Tuesday to expand their witness list and said it may include Democratic fund-raiser John Huang and presidential confidant Bruce Lindsey.

Meanwhile, the panel's Democrats--angry and feeling that they are being shut out of the planning process for the upcoming hearing--considered but then called off plans to boycott the session once the only previously announced witness, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, began his opening statement.

In other developments, Starr sent two more boxes of materials to the committee, these containing some of his evidence against former Justice Department official and Clinton friend Webster L. Hubbell. Starr maintains that this evidence justified the expansion of his Whitewater investigation to the President Clinton-Monica S. Lewinsky affair.

And the White House weighed in with a request for at least 90 minutes for the president's lawyers to cross-examine Starr, triple the time offered by Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.).

Tuesday night Hyde rejected the request in a stern letter that warned against trying to put Starr on trial.

With tempers boiling on both sides of the fragile proceeding, the possibility grew that the impeachment hearings would dissolve into rank political bickering rather than provide any new substantial developments.

The last-minute additions to the hearing schedule appear to signal not a sharp change of course but a systematic effort by committee Republicans, many of whom are attorneys, to legitimize their controversial pursuit of impeachment.

The Republicans hope to use Huang and Lindsey to build a broader case of obstruction of justice against the president. By using that evidence to prove that Starr was justified in investigating Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky, Republicans would argue that they also have sufficient grounds to vote on articles of impeachment.

In a brief Capitol Hill interview, Hyde said the next step in the process is finalizing of the witness list. He will do that today, he said, in a meeting with the panel's GOP lawyers.

In their strategy session on Tuesday, Republican committee members discussed whether to call additional witnesses but left it to Hyde to finalize the list of others who might testify in what will be only the third impeachment hearing in the nation's history.

"It's a very reasonable assumption" that additional witnesses will be called, Hyde said. "We assume subpoenas will be necessary."

Details Remain to Be Worked Out

Sam Stratman, the committee's GOP spokesman, said that a few details need to be worked out before the broader witness list can be announced.

"It's all about dotting the i's and crossing the t's," Stratman said. "There are certain procedures to follow. There are certain courtesies to extend. It's a good bet that additional witnesses will be called."

Sources said that the Republicans are considering privately questioning Huang under oath and then, perhaps, bringing him to an open hearing as a witness.

Huang has provided Starr with information about payments to Hubbell that the special prosecutor believes could have been hush money paid so that Hubbell would not reveal alleged wrongdoing by the president or Hillary Rodham Clinton in matters related to the Whitewater real estate deal. Starr has used evidence of the Hubbell payments to argue that Clinton may have engineered a similar obstruction of justice in an attempt to buy Lewinsky's silence about their affair.

The White House has tried to block testimony by Lindsey, a longtime Clinton lieutenant, but a recent Supreme Court action endorsed lower court rulings that Lindsey's conversations with Clinton were not privileged because he was a White House lawyer. His testimony could be crucial if the Republicans hope to show a broader conspiracy of silence within the White House about the Lewinsky affair.

Despite the rancor Tuesday, Hyde said he met with Democratic leaders on the panel and that they never mentioned a threat to boycott the hearing. "I don't think it's a real threat," Hyde said.

But earlier in the day, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) hinted that the Democrats might not want to be a party to the hearings.

"If this thing keeps going the way it's been going, Democrats may decide not to come to the hearing," Gephardt warned. "This is not the way this should be done. It has not been done, by anybody's judgment, in a bipartisan way, in a consensual way. And this is just not the appropriate way to handle this."

But Democrats, after emerging from their own evening strategy session, said they would not boycott Starr's testimony after all and instead hoped to end the process swiftly.

"Having only Kenneth Starr is a sham of a hearing. But on the other hand, you have this reluctance to have this be the major business of the Congress in . . . 1999," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).

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