Senate Whitewater Committee to be extended by Republicans Move will push probe closer to election, fueling charges of partisanship


WASHINGTON -- In a move sure to fuel accusations of partisanship, congressional Republicans will announce this week that they intend to extend the Senate Whitewater Committee beyond its Feb. 29 expiration date, pushing the politically charged probe well into the presidential election year.

Sources close to the committee headed by Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, the New York Republican who co-chairs the presidential campaign of Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, say the panel's interim report, slated for release tomorrow, will conclude that more time is needed to explore new information about first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Republicans also will conclude that the proceedings have been delayed because of a lack of cooperation by aides to President Clinton and his wife, as well as by requests from independent counsel Kenneth Starr -- a Republican -- that the panel postpone questioning key witnesses.

White House counsel Mark Fabiani said Saturday that it would be "no surprise" if the Republicans continue the investigation.

"Whitewater has now been examined by three congressional committees, the Resolution Trust Corp. and two independent counsels, at a total cost of $28 million, all to determine how the Clintons lost $40,000," Mr. Fabiani said. "Through it all, there has been no evidence of any illegal or unethical conduct."

Mr. D'Amato announced Friday that at Mr. Starr's request, the committee would delay enforcement of subpoenas for documents of Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and of the Clintons' Whitewater partners, James and Susan McDougal, until the conclusion of their trial on fraud charges, which is to begin in March. James McDougal owned Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, which failed at a $60 million cost to the taxpayers and which regulators say was corrupt. Mrs. Clinton represented Madison while a partner at the Rose Law Firm.

The call to continue the Senate investigation, possibly until this summer's Republican and Democratic conventions, would set off fierce debate in the Senate.

Last week, the hearings took their most bitterly partisan turn to date, with Democrats repeatedly attacking Mr. D'Amato.

"It is now clear for all to see that Senator D'Amato is serving as the chief henchman for the Dole campaign in this partisan political fishing expedition, otherwise known as the Whitewater hearings," one White House official said.

Sources close to the committee say information will come out showing a "damage-control group" held numerous meetings beginning in 1993 to organize the president's defense.

Republicans will try to make the case through such evidence as witness depositions and White House electronic mail that the Clintons abused power by allowing their aides to gather secret ++ law enforcement information to develop their private legal defense and thwart federal regulators from investigating Whitewater, the sources said.

On Thursday, the panel will swear in Carolyn Huber, the aide who administration officials say recently discovered long-sought Rose billing records while cleaning out Mrs. Clinton's office at the White House personal residence. Those records seem to contradict Mrs. Clinton's assertion that she did little work for Madison 11 years ago.

Republicans and even some Democrats say the story of how Ms. Huber found the documents strains credulity.

Committee member Sen. Orin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said the panel would have to gather more information before deciding on whether to issue a subpoena to Mrs. Clinton. "We need to have more candid responses from the White House," Mr. Hatch said on the CBS program "Face The Nation."

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