Whitewater Hearings Are Set

Article excerpt

Senate Democrats are trying to limit any committee hearings on the so-called Whitewater matter to minimize the political problems for President Bill Clinton and Democrats generally. At the same time, Republicans are fighting to broaden the hearings to maximize the discomfort for the president and his fellow Democrats. The public interest is not a consideration in this battle.

Being in the majority, the Democrats have managed, for the time being, to prevent the creation of a special committee that would conduct a wide-ranging investigation. Instead, they have voted to allow the Banking Committee to investigate only three aspects of Whitewater, all involving events since Mr. Clinton took office. In the House, Democratic leaders have announced a similar arrangement.

Though many Whitewater questions await answers, next month's hearings will be limited to:

The Park Service's investigation of the suicide of Vincent W. Foster, a White House aide.

The handling by the White House of files in Mr. Foster's office related to Whitewater.

The contacts earlier this year between White House staff members and Treasury Department officials about the investigation into Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan.

The Democrats' principal rationale for limiting the scope of the hearings is that Robert Fiske, the special prosecutor, will have issued an interim report on these aspects of his investigation by the time the hearings start, greatly reducing the risk that the hearings would frustrate his work. Also, the three topics are appropriately within the purview of the banking committees.

The Republicans, of course, want to go well beyond the three matters. They want to find out whether James McDougal, head of Madison Guaranty, used federally insured money from the S&L to help pay off a 1982 Clinton campaign debt, whether any of the S&L's money was diverted improperly into Whitewater Development Corp. …