Sen. Paul Sarbanes says his Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee should not get involved in the Whitewater affair. He accused Republicans in the Congress and in Maryland, who called on him and the committee to hold hearings, of "seizing upon it [Whitewater] in a highly partisan way."
Imagine -- partisanship in the U.S. Senate!
Of course there is a partisan divide over this issue. Of course Republicans want to make some political hay. As Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., put it, "You have to remember the position that [we] have been in for 12 years, where we were investigated, sometimes frivolously. If we get a chance to point a finger, why it requires a saintliness that is superhuman, supernatural to act with restraint." Not many saints and Supermen on Capitol Hill.
Senator Sarbanes and Representative Hyde were on the congressional committees that jointly investigated Iran-contra. So was Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who has also said there should be no congressional probe of Whitewater anytime soon. His and Senator Sarbanes' expressed point is that hearings can interfere with the special counsel's investigation.
Seems to us we've heard that song before -- from some Republicans who for political reasons didn't want Iran-contra so widely publicized. Senators Mitchell and Sarbanes thought it more important then for the country to know what was going on than for the independent counsel to get convictions.
As their committee's final report put it then: "Under the American system, government is accountable to the people. A public bipartisan investigation such as this one helps to ensure that the principle of accountability is enforced for all officials and policies. It strengthens the national commitment to the democratic values that have guided the United States for two centuries."
Carefully, responsibly structured hearings could ensure the principle of accountability -- for the White House and Congress, for Democrats and Republicans. Such hearings could be conducted in a way and on a schedule that would not interfere with the independent counsel's work. The American people would notice and condemn the politics of it if the Republicans started playing it strictly for partisan gain in the hearings. The public would also notice and condemn the politics of it if the Democrats for partisan reasons prevent any congressional review of Whitewater.