The House Judiciary Committee voted Friday to release the videotape of President Clinton's grand jury testimony and an additional 2,800 pages of material from independent counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation.
After long hours of partisan wrangling over two days, Committee Chairman Henry Hyde said the committee agreed to release the material after deleting 120 portions deemed sensitive or offensive.Just when the material would be made public was left unclear, but Hyde said a timetable would likely be announced late Friday. Officials said it was unlikely anything would be released before Monday.
The White House immediately denounced the committee's action.
"This appears to be a rush to prejudgment and an effort to get out the most salacious material at the speed of light, not at the proper pace of justice," spokesman James Kennedy said. "But in the end it will have to be the American people who will have to see if this indeed has been a fair process or a partisan effort to embarrass the president."
Hyde, R-Ill., said the committee sessions were civil but that bipartisanship "doesn't include surrender to everything the Democrats want."
"There was a general view among the Democrats not to reveal anything, and there was a general view among Republicans to reveal as much as possible," Hyde said. He added that Republicans agreed to "responsible redactions to protect people whose names and vital statistics and involvement in this was very peripheral."
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., immediately denounced the action as "an effort to discredit the president." He said virtually every vote was a party-line vote.
Hyde said there was disagreement within the committee on about 20 deletions, and those were settled along party lines.
Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., said it was necessary to release the material because "the president has put things in dispute."
As the committee deliberated, Republican congressional leaders appeared before a meeting of the Christian Coalition and told the conservative group they would press ahead with their investigation of the president.
"There is no constitutional crisis, there is only a Clinton crisis," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.
"We will do our duty," said House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. "We in the House won't do an inch more than our duty for partisanship and we don't do an inch less than our duty out of intimidation."
The partisan disputes went beyond arguments over what material to release.
- Top House Republicans demanded an FBI inquiry into an alleged "systematic attempt to intimidate" Hyde and other lawmakers, and the agency pledged to take "appropriate steps" in response. Republicans have blamed the White House for an online magazine story exposing a sexual relationship between Hyde and a married woman in the 1960s. Presidential aides denied involvement.
- Senior committee Democrat John Conyers wrote Hyde a letter, protesting the chairman's acting without his knowledge to seek a copy of Clinton's videotaped deposition in Mrs. Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit, which the president gave Jan. 17. Hyde sent a letter signed only by himself to U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright in Little Rock, Ark., asking for the tape, and later told reporters he expects it ultimately will be made public. The judge's law clerk said she was making arrangements to comply.
- Clinton's attorney, David Kendall, said in a statement that Starr had earlier refused a request to destroy the Aug. 17 videotape after it was viewed by a grand juror who was absent for the president's testimony. The only purpose for preserving it, the lawyer contended, "was to ensure its public release and embarrass the president."
Starr, in response, said, "We concluded that we could not comply with this request. Federal law required us to transfer to the House the videotape, along with all other substantial and credible information that President Clinton had committed perjury and other felonies. We cannot and will not destroy evidence of a crime."
Even before the committee met on Thursday, TV outlets were making plans for airing the four-hour grand jury tape of the president.
Clinton, sharpening attacks on his Washington critics, is accusing them of trying to use his current troubles as a campaign issue against Democrats.
But he had no strong words Thursday for the scores of people who turned out in Cincinnati and Boston to demand that he leave office.
"Harry Truman once made that famous statement, `If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen,' " Clinton told supporters in Cincinnati. "So I think about that every morning and go to the kitchen."