Magazine article Insight on the News

Getting Ready for Starr

Magazine article Insight on the News

Getting Ready for Starr

Article excerpt

As the House Judiciary Committee awaits Ken Starr's report, Republicans are struggling to gather the information they need for possible impeachment hearings.

Deep within the House and Senate office buildings which surround Capitol Hill is a remarkable collection of information on the many scandals which have dogged President Clinton throughout his two terms. Locked away in file cabinets and stored on secured computer hard drives, millions of documents, hundreds of transcripts and many other important records are waiting in congressional committee offices and storage rooms. Like a potluck dinner, the results of investigations ranging from Whitewater to the campaign-finance scandals, Travelgate and even the burial-waiver controversy concerning Arlington National Cemetery beckon inquiring minds, each dishing a different serving of the president's alleged misconduct.

As the House Judiciary Committee and its chairman, Illinois Republican Rep. Henry Hyde, continue to prepare for the arrival of Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's much-anticipated report on evidence of wrongdoing by the president--and the potential impeachment hearings it may compel--the documents tucked away in those committee offices soon could take on dramatic importance. Should impeachment proceedings take place, it is likely information from the many other committee investigations would be sought to supplement whatever evidence Starr includes in his analysis.

Recognizing the potential for pooling such information and actually being able to do so in a way that will allow analysis and retrieval are two different things. Such an undertaking would require cooperation and coordination among dozens of jurisdictionally jealous committee staffers, not to mention between members of Congress. It's a difficulty congressional Republicans know very well.

Due primarily to petty turf battles among committees, GOP leaders failed more than a year ago to combine their knowledge of the Clinton scandals in a central computer and turn it into a badly needed investigatory resource. Many congressional sources still are skeptical that it will be done. "It was bad enough last year, but the failed coup attempt against [Speaker of the House] Newt [Gingrich] has left an even greater level of distrust between top Republicans and their staffs," says a Hill source.

Veteran staffers nonetheless tell Insight that failure to build an information database would cripple any impeachment inquiry. It is an opinion shared by Larry Klayman, counsel for Judicial Watch, the conservative legal watchdog group that is representing former Reagan and Bush administration officials in lawsuits against the Clinton White House involving illegal tampering with their confidential FBI files. "It's very, very important, but I'm not optimistic it will ever start," Klayman tells Insight. "There is no political will."

Despite the gloomy predictions, House Republicans may be closer than the Cassandras think to pulling together a central system for analyzing and collecting all the data on the Clinton scandals. Part of the solution could be sitting in the offices of Chairman Dan Burton's House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, which has the authority to access any information that may be gathered anywhere in government. At the Indiana Republican's behest, the committee last year put into place its own state-of-the-art database to sleuth out the White House's money trails. Stocked with more than 1 million documents, the database also includes information provided to the House by Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson's Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

"It's designed to combine relational information that a human mind might not notice, but the computer will detect," a spokesman for Burton's committee tells Insight. This is important. The record of a fact as minute as a telephone number could tie events or persons together in a way that might not otherwise have been possible. …

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