Congressional Investigations

Article excerpt

At least 11 committees are preparing to investigate political and personal scandals swirling around the Clintons. Who is looking at what has become more complicated than an Abbot and Costello routine.

By winning reelection without bringing a Democratic Congress in with him, Bill Clinton virtually has guaranteed his status as the most investigated president in history.

Taking office in 1993 with a pledge to run "the most ethical administration in history," Clinton has displayed a casualness about the appearance-- and perhaps the legality -- of many of his actions. The result has been a series of "gates"-- high-level scandals with media-ready labels.

The 105th Congress is gearing up to carry on the investigations and to begin as many as 11 new probes, the most recent involving the possible sale of White House favors in exchange for high-dollar contributions from Asian business interests to the Democratic National Committee, or DNC. At the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, Chairman Bill Clinger of Pennsylvania, a moderate Republican who proved dogged in investigating Clinton administration misdeeds, is retiring. He will be replaced by Indiana's Rep. Dan Burton, a conservative firebrand. Burton already has given the green light to the committee's high-powered investigative staff and has brought in a big-gun investigator from North Carolina GOP Sen. Lauch Faircloth's staff. Burton's inquiry will be the leading House investigation, but the Banking Committee, under Iowa's Rep. Jim Leach, may contribute as well.

In the Senate, Tennessee's Fred Thompson likely will be the next chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee. Though best known to many as a former actor, Thompson had a career as a prosecutor before going to Hollywood--and served as minority counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee during the fateful summer of 1973. Thompson's committee will lead the Senate side of the investigations with some help from the Commerce Committee under its new chairman, Arizona Republican John McCain, a man reputed to be as fair and tough as they come. As for the Senate Banking Committee, Chairman Al D'Amato of New York has called it quits on his Whitewater investigation. He asserts that his panel has gone as far as possible and that it is time for Congress to defer to the independent counsel's investigation. However, critics say this decision was motivated by the fact that D'Amato faces reelection in 1998 and Clinton was a big winner in New York on Election Day.

The House Banking Committee also has wrapped up its Whitewater investigation. Its staff is completing a report on the Mena Intermountain Regional Airport, a remote Arkansas airstrip reported to have been the site of guns-for-drugs deals allegedly involving ties to the CIA and the Nicaraguan Contra rebels. Leach pressed forward with this investigation despite its potential to tar the Reagan and Bush administrations as well as then-Gov. Clinton's administration in Little Rock, Ark. House Banking Committee spokesman David Runkel tells Insight that the committee plans to issue its Mena report before the new Congress is sworn on Jan. 7.

The original "gate" of this administration was Whitewater, a land scheme that involved shady characters and a sitting governor. It since has grown to include a scandal which revolves around charges that first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton helped create misleading legal documents of a highly dubious nature concerning illicit land deals for clients, some of whom also were financial contributors to her husband's campaigns. As a result, a failing thrift institution was made to appear sound and eventually had to be bailed out by taxpayers. Also at issue in Whitewater is whether Hillary Clinton was truthful in subsequent sworn testimony to Congress and the strange reappearance in the White House of her billing records months after they had been subpoenaed.

Next came Travelgate, which concerns allegations that the first lady engineered the firing of career civil servants in the White House Travel Office on trumped-up criminal charges to make room for Clinton cronies from Arkansas. …