WASHINGTON -- As partisan sniping intensified in Congress, the criminal investigation of President Clinton's behavior in the White House continued yesterday to focus on Betty Currie, his personal secretary.
Currie faced three more hours of grand jury questioning in Washington, while House Speaker Newt Gingrich riled Democrats during a speech before the New Hampshire legislature in which he repeatedly referred to "crime" being committed at the Clinton White House.
Two dozen Democratic lawmakers stood up and left the statehouse chamber as Gingrich spoke. "What I'm saying is a fact about a crime," Gingrich called after them.
Bridling at the speaker's sharp-edged language lately, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt dispatched a complaint, accusing him of outright bias in the various Republican-led investigations of Clinton. Gephardt cited reports that the speaker had advised the Republican House Caucus this week to "focus on crimes that are being committed" at the White House and to "forget the word 'scandals' and start using the word 'crimes.' "
Gephardt told the speaker that "as long as you direct its activities," the Republican-controlled House would never deal fairly in the Clinton investigations. "Your actions resembled a judge who begins a trial by advising the jury of his belief in the guilt of the accused," Gephardt declared.
At the grand jury, Currie, who testified all day Wednesday, emerged without comment, while her lawyer, Lawrence Wechsler, declared, "We will be back; I'm not sure when."
Currie, who was first called to testify in January by Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel, is a major witness in the inquiry into charges that Clinton had an affair in the Oval Office with Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern, and sought to cover it up in sworn court testimony.
The president denied the liaison in a deposition in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct lawsuit in which he insisted that Lewinsky received extensive White House access, gifts and job referrals largely because of her closeness to Currie, not himself. Stationed at the president's office door, Currie has a commanding view of Oval Office activity.
Glen Maes, a White House steward, was a second witness before the closed grand jury, with Starr offering no indication of the subject of the day's inquiry. This was the second appearance by Maes, one of four stewards summoned thus far. The stewards serve the president in his private surroundings and reportedly are being questioned in detail about Lewinsky's visits to the Oval Office.
While Gingrich took to the road with his criticism of the president, Democrats maintained their attack on Republican Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana, who had to apologize for some tactics in his House inquiry into Clinton's campaign fund-raising activities.
Democratic leaders said they would seek Burton's removal as chairman of the inquiry next week. They cited his prejudging the president in vulgar terms and his release of prison phone calls by Webster L. Hubbell, the president's friend and former top Justice Department official indicted last week for the second time on charges of tax evasion. Democrats accuse Burton of releasing transcripts and a tape of Hubbell's conversations that were edited to omit passages favorable to the Clintons' version of events.
Meanwhile, another top Republican in the House accused Clinton of using a claim of executive privilege to "stall, delay and stonewall" prosecutors seeking to question his closest aides. Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas said yesterday that he would introduce legislation next week that would attempt to limit a president's use of the privilege.
DeLay, the third-ranking Republican in the House, said the measure would require a president to report to Congress whenever he invoked executive privilege and would direct the attorney general to analyze the legal justification of such a claim.
"He has hidden behind executive privilege to keep the American people from knowing the truth," DeLay said in a speech on the House floor.
On Tuesday, Federal District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson ruled that Clinton could not invoke the privilege to keep key aides from testifying before the grand jury investigating the Lewinsky matter.
Pub Date: 5/08/98