WASHINGTON – Maryland’s congressional delegation voted 7-1 Friday to release independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s report on the president, despite reservations about its content and fairness to President Clinton.
But those who voted yes said full disclosure would be better than having the report leaked to the public in titillating fragments. Congress voted 363-63 after two hours of debate Friday to release the 445-page report.
“I would not have voted `aye’ if the report could have stayed in Congress without leaks,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D- Mitchellville. “The American people should not have it in dribs and drabs.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, the lone Maryland vote against disseminating the report, cited unfair legal treatment of the president in the investigation.
“This is the equivalent of a defense attorney having no rebuttal, and then saying, `Let’s have a fair trial,'” said Cummings.
He said that the president “is neither above nor below the law,” but added that there was a fundamental question of fairness involved.
“We have to be careful, our Constitution is based on fairness,” said Cummings. “As matter of principle, I could not go back to my district without a no vote.”
Others were concerned about the report’s detailed descriptions of sexual relations between Clinton and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, said lawmakers who were familiar with the report said it would “make pornographers blush when they read it.”
“I think people will be shocked,” said Rep. Constance Morella, R-Bethesda. “But let’s get this done as fully and quickly as possible, so we can work on other issues, we must take care of this now.”
Despite the partisan nature of the debate, the resolution to release the report passed with strong support from both sides of the aisle: 224 Republicans, 138 Democrats and one independent voted for release, while 63 Democrats voted against it.
Nine members — four Republicans and five Democrats — did not vote. All eight Maryland members voted.
Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, cited the public’s right to see the entire report after his vote in favor of the resolution.
“Rather than have it sensationalized [through leaks], people should read it and draw their own conclusions,” said Wynn.
He said too much attention has been paid to graphic elements in the report, taking the spotlight off the serious issue of a possible impeachment of the president.
“There is too much focus on scandal,” said Wynn, adding that the issue for Congress to consider “will be whether there is obstruction of justice” that rises to the level of high crimes and misdemeanor.
“Nobody is going to say adultery is an impeachable offense,” said Bartlett, adding that it would take evidence of obstruction of justice or witness tampering to qualify as grounds for impeachment.
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville, voted for release because he agrees “with the process that the [House] rules committee has laid out up to this point.”
“I think we need to begin the orderly process of evaluating the information sent by the independent counsel,” he said.
Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., R-Timonium, said “the American people have the right to know” and they paid for the report and the independent counsel. He said the charges were serious and the bottom line is Americans deserve as much information as possible.
An aide to Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D-Baltimore, said the congressman thought the president should have been allowed to review the report first, but he voted for release anyway.
“He thinks it will be released out by leak anyway and it would be better if it were done in an orderly way,” said Susan Sullam, Cardin’s press contact.
Despite his reservations, Bartlett cited what he expected would be unprecedented public interest in the document, which was posted on numerous Internet sites within hours of the vote.
“The Net may collapse, so many people are trying to read it,” Bartlett said.
— Capital News Service reporters Virginia McCord and Tracy L. Fercho contributed to this report.