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Gingrich Calls on President to 'Cooperate'

Scandal: 'The fastest way to get this over,' speaker angrily says, is for Clinton to stop all legal wrangling, testify openly.

September 26, 1998|JANET HOOK and MARC LACEY | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — With Democrats clamoring for a quick end to the investigation of President Clinton, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) angrily challenged the White House on Friday to be as cooperative as he believes he was in his own ethics case.

Gingrich, who was almost toppled last year after a protracted ethics investigation, called on Clinton to stop fighting legal appeals, offer his own unbridled testimony and take other steps the speaker maintains he took to settle his case before the House Ethics Committee.

"The fastest way to get this over with is for the president to instruct his staff to cooperate, waive attorney-client privilege and be prepared to totally cooperate," Gingrich said in an interview with reporters and editors of The Times.

Faced with opinion polls indicating that most voters still do not believe Clinton should be impeached, Gingrich said polling should not affect Congress' handling of the matter. The legal grounds for possible impeachment of Clinton--such as obstruction of justice--are similar to the ones raised against former President Nixon and must be judged strictly on the merits, not public opinion, he said.

And he launched a bitter attack on the White House and other Democrats for trying to cut short the inquiry after Clinton spent seven months denying he had had an affair with former intern Monica S. Lewinsky.

"What you see today is a deliberate effort to short-circuit the rule of law in favor of a nice political effort," Gingrich said. "It is disheartening to have the level of spinning by this White House, and the level of arrogance and duplicity by this White House. To this day, they haven't told the truth."

In related developments Friday:

* The House Judiciary Committee met behind closed doors all day and into the evening deciding which materials from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation should be released next week. They took 25 votes, most of them unanimous, to redact mostly personal material from some of the files, as well as grand jury testimony and an interview transcript from three unidentified individuals.

The committee agreed unanimously to release--with some sensitive portions erased--the audiotapes Pentagon employee Linda Tripp made of her telephone conversations with Lewinsky.

But the committee returned to its partisan ways when deciding whether to ask Starr to send to the House the additional material still in his files. Republicans blocked that measure, saying Starr had already said he would allow Democrat and Republican committee staffers to jointly review the material in Starr's office.

And in a post-meeting press conference, committee members resumed their partisan sniping.

* Clinton traveled to Chicago and San Jose to raise money for Democratic candidates in the November elections--but he could not completely leave the scandal behind. The beneficiary of the $250,000 Chicago fund-raiser, Rep. Glenn Poshard (D-Ill.), who is running behind in the Illinois gubernatorial race, skipped the event.

Before leaving Washington on Friday, Clinton attacked the GOP-controlled Congress for failing to deliver the appropriation bills even though the government's fiscal year ends next week.

* A member of the legal team for Paula Corbin Jones, who filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the president in 1994, confirmed that "we're in the midst of negotiations" with Clinton's attorneys to reach "a substantial monetary settlement" to end the suit.

Other legal sources said the amount under discussion is between $500,000 and $1 million. The lawyer, John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute of Charlottesville, Va., said in a CNN interview that Jones no longer would insist on an apology from Clinton as part of a settlement, reasoning that a large payment would be "a tacit admission" of her charges.

* The FBI denied that it has decided against investigating whether White House operatives had disseminated information about House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde's (R-Ill.) affair with a married woman in the late 1960s. Republican House leaders last week asked FBI Director Louis J. Freeh to investigate the rumors of White House involvement and whether it constituted an attempt to obstruct the House's consideration of impeachment proceedings.

"We're looking at it carefully to see if there is jurisdiction and a legal basis to go forward," an FBI official said.

Gingrich's latest comments about the Clinton investigation come at a time when his role in the House's potential impeachment inquiry has become a matter of considerable controversy. Although Gingrich insists that Hyde is calling the shots, White House officials and other Democrats have seized every opportunity to portray Gingrich as the key strategist. Clearly, Democrats see political advantage in having Gingrich as the public face of the impeachment push because he, far more than Hyde, is a controversial Republican partisan that unites Democrats in their enmity toward him.

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