The battle over President Clinton's impeachment, nasty during the House debate, threatened Thursday to grow nastier as the president's trial looms ahead in the Senate.
The White House cried foul over unpublished and uncorroborated evidence collected by investigators about Clinton's private life. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said that senators should consider the material in addition to the formal record compiled as part of the House debate that led to Clinton's impeachment.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) responded Thursday by calling DeLay "a frustrated moral ayatollah."
DeLay issued a statement Wednesday that urged the Senate not to cut short its consideration of the Clinton impeachment. Some have suggested that the Senate move directly to consideration of censuring the president.
"There are reams of evidence that have not been publicly aired and are only available to members," he said. "The reason the House adopted articles of impeachment was due to the overwhelming evidence against the president."
"Before people look to cut a deal with the White House or their surrogates who will seek to influence this process, it is my hope that one would spend plenty of time in the evidence room. If this were to happen, you may realize that 67 votes may appear out of thin air. If you don't, you may wish you had before rushing to judgment."
The mostly unsubstantiated evidence to which DeLay referred consists of House Judiciary Committee files gathered by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and the committee's majority staff counsel, David Schippers. The material was not submitted as part of the Starr report or the public case for the president's impeachment.
The material contains information about at least three women cited in Paula Corbin Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton, The Times reported earlier this week.
They include Kathleen Willey, who claimed publicly that Clinton had groped her last year; Dolly Kyle Browning, who was flown from Dallas to Washington by Schippers and questioned about an alleged affair with Clinton and her accusations that he lied about it; and an unnamed "Jane Doe No. 5," who has given investigators conflicting information about reports that the president had made an "unwelcome" advance toward her.
Late last week, several moderate Republicans who were still making up their minds about the impeachment vote were urged by at least one Republican Judiciary Committee member to go to the Gerald R. Ford House office building to view the raw files, which contain material concerning former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky.
Schippers and some Judiciary Republicans hope to use the files in a Senate impeachment trial. But it is unclear whether the Constitution would permit that because they were not part of the official House record.
DeLay's statement drew a mild rebuke Wednesday from Jim Kennedy, spokesman for the White House counsel's office.
"Having put the 'hammer' to his colleagues in the House," said Kennedy, using the nickname for the hard-driving, vote-counting Republican whip. "Tom DeLay is trying to do the same to the Senate, and we believe the senators will reject the politics of personal destruction."
Harkin was more pointed.
"Tom DeLay is full of hot air. What he said is beneath the dignity of a member of the House of Representatives. Evidently, he has no respect for his position and the responsibility he has. This is a grossly inappropriate comment and grossly irresponsible and, quite frankly, grossly irrelevant," Harkin said in a telephone interview.
"He wants to impose his twisted morals on everyone else," Harkin said, adding that out of frustration of failing to gain popular support for his position, "DeLay must be approaching an apoplectic state.
"We know what the evidence is" against Clinton, the senator said, recommending that the full Senate proceed with a trial of Clinton, hear the House's evidence for a week, devote a second week to Clinton's defense and then a third and final week to debating and voting.
"What the Republicans are afraid of is [that] Clinton will win big," Harkin said.
With complaints simmering that DeLay had blocked a House vote on censuring Clinton, rather than impeaching him, the whip's spokesman, Mike Scanlon, said that his boss had issued his statement for two reasons: to "reassure people that censure never would have passed the House and to defend the process that took place in the House."
He said DeLay hopes that senators will not ignore the "mounds of evidence" omitted from Starr's referral to the Judiciary Committee.
He also said that any perception that DeLay is trying to influence the Senate is "ridiculous."
Times staff writers Edwin Chen and Stephen Braun contributed to this story.
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