Pryor Likens Probe to Travelgate, Urges RNC to Pay Witnesses' Legal Fees

Article excerpt

Sen. David Pryor, a close confidant of President Clinton, yesterday called on the Republican National Committee to pay the legal fees of all White House officials called as witnesses before the special Senate Whitewater committee.

"That is offensive," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican. "That is a blatant attempt to gloss over a mountain of sleaze."

Mr. Pryor, Arkansas Democrat, spoke after Senate Democrats blocked legislation to reimburse fired White House travel office employees for legal expenses related to their defense against charges of fiscal mismanagement.

The legislation would have set aside $500,000 to compensate Billy R. Dale, director of the travel office, for legal fees accumulated in his successful defense against two federal embezzlement charges.

Mr. Dale was found not guilty of two counts of embezzlement in running the office; afterward, the House voted 350-43 to pay his bills. Although Mr. Clinton endorsed the legislation, it is locked in a filibuster because of efforts by Senate Democrats to attach a minimum-wage increase and compensate the Whitewater witnesses.

"The Republican National Committee should pay all the legal fees of the Whitewater witnesses," Mr. Pryor said in an interview.

"It is pure party politics; it is stupid politics," Mr. Hatch said, also in an interview.

Mr. Pryor was visibly frustrated by Mr. Hatch's refusal to allow consideration of a resolution calling for compensation of witnesses called before the special Senate committee, which is investigating issues related to the Whitewater Development Corp., which was co-owned by the president and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Tempers were short yesterday as Mr. Hatch and Mr. Pryor - both of whom are typically mild-mannered - sparred over the issue after the 52-44 cloture vote, eight shy of cutting off the filibuster.

"We have an unjust, deliberate, vicious White House staff pushed by the `highest level,' to use their language, to basically screw some long-term, hard-working, decent employees," Mr. Hatch said.

"And they did screw Billy Dale to the point that Billy Dale went through a besmirching public trial with all the accompanying embarrassments and stress and attorney fees. Now, to be denied legal fees because someone makes a point against Whitewater, that is pretty poor."

White House spokesman Michael McCurry said Mr. Pryor's remarks were not coordinated with the White House and do not represent its formal position. …