WASHINGTON – Maryland Sen. Paul Sarbanes joined other Senate Democrats Tuesday in proposing an extension of the Whitewater hearings to no later than April 3.
Sarbanes, the ranking minority member on the Senate Whitewater committee, and other Democrats threatened to filibuster an authorizing proposal if Republicans attempt to obtain a longer extension. The hearings, which began last summer, had been set to end Thursday.
“This is more than adequate,” said Sarbanes, during a press conference in the Capitol. “The longer this goes into the election year, the more political it becomes by definition.”
Republicans are seeking an indefinite extension of the hearings into Arkansas land transactions made by President Clinton and his wife, Hillary. Republicans asked for an additional appropriation of $600,000 to pay for the hearings.
Democrats countered Tuesday with the proposal for the shorter extension and a request for an additional $185,000.
“This is about getting the facts,” said Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato, R-N.Y., chairman of the special Whitewater committee.
He said if there is no hearing deadline, “I think you will see a wealth of information produced.”
He called the April 3 date “disingenuous,” and added: “If the Democrats want to filibuster, that is their absolute right. … Let the American people choose.”
A White House spokesman said the president supports the Democrats’ proposal.
“Throughout this process, the Democrats have been very reasonable and responsible,” said Mark Fabiana, special associate counsel for the president. “In this case, they’re following the right option on how to proceed.”
The opposing proposals were being considered by the Senate Banking and Rules committees and may reach the Senate floor Wednesday, said Molly Rowley, spokeswoman for Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle, D-S.D.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., said a date for the debate and vote on the extension had not been set.
Sarbanes, speaking with five other Democratic senators, echoed his colleagues’ contentions that the hearings have already lasted longer and cost more than other inquiries, including Iran- Contra and Watergate.
At their own press conference, D’Amato and other Republican committee members said one reason the hearings have taken so long is because of dilatory tactics by the White House.
D’Amato said the indefinite extension is needed to be able to call witnesses not now available because they’re tied up with a special prosecutor or with a related criminal trial in Arkansas set to begin Monday.
But Sarbanes said the hearings could have been completed had there been a more intense schedule in July. He said there has been “a slowdown” in recent weeks, falling from three hearings a week to none this week.
Sarbanes said the hearings should be kept to a tight schedule and not be extended far into this presidential election year.
He said in cases in which the White House has been slow to hand over some requested documents, it may have been because it was “inundated with requests.” He also criticized some of the requests as being too broad.
D’Amato said he wants a “continuation of the matter until we have all the facts.” He said he did not think the committee would need all of the $600,000 Republicans are requesting. Despite the contentious tone of both press conferences, D’Amato hinted at a possible compromise. He said the Republicans might listen to an offer to extend the hearings four to six weeks after the conclusion of the Arkansas trial. -30-