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Before-the-Scenes Look at New Starr Papers

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The House was out of session. There were no new investigative documents to read. Still, a roomful of Capitol Hill journalists assigned to the impeachment beat scribbled like mad Tuesday afternoon, trying to keep up with the spin.

Three Democratic attorneys with the House Judiciary Committee--who, of course, would not permit use of their names--described the thousands of pages of documents that the panel will release later this week as not particularly damaging to President Clinton.

“Old news,” one attorney said.

Later in the day, however, a GOP source provided a different take on the same papers: They contain damaging tidbits that only strengthen the case for an initial impeachment inquiry.

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As next week’s vote on the matter nears, the bitterly divided Judiciary Committee is shifting into overdrive to put a spin in one party’s direction or the other on the mountain of facts collected by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.

So far at least, Democrats have had the edge.

They fretted so much over how angry Clinton was going to appear in his videotaped grand jury appearance that he came off as not all that angry. Someone--believed to be a Democrat--even spread the rumor that Clinton stormed out of the room midway through his testimony, an incident that was not on the videotape.

GOP, Admitting Being ‘Out-Spun,’ Fires Back

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Democrats also have repeatedly portrayed the committee’s proceedings as partisan and unfair, a well-worn strategy designed to discredit whatever the panel accomplishes.

Acknowledging that they have been “out-spun” by the competition, Republicans have begun firing back with a vengeance.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), for instance, has launched regular press conferences--folksy affairs that are televised live and feature Hyde bantering playfully with the press corps while repeatedly asserting his intention to be fair.

Asked Tuesday what he thought about the latest Democratic slant, the Illinois Republican’s spin was that he did not care a bit. “My God,” he said, “it’s a free country.”

By week’s end, another mountain of documents from Starr’s investigative files will begin rolling off government printing presses and into the public domain. There will be transcripts of Monica S. Lewinsky’s telephone conversations with her Pentagon colleague, Linda Tripp, as well as grand jury transcripts from scores of other figures in the investigation--from Secret Service agents to presidential aides to Lewinsky’s mother, Marcia Lewis.

How Democrats, GOP See What’s Ahead

Here’s a look at some of what’s to come, through Democratic and Republican eyes:

Democrats say the Tripp tapes will show that Lewinsky was being manipulated by her elder colleague. They say that the testimony suggests it was Tripp who recommended that Lewinsky seek job assistance from Clinton confidant Vernon E. Jordan Jr.

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Republicans do not stick up for Tripp. “I certainly wouldn’t want a friend like Linda Tripp,” one official said. But the GOP line is that Tripp’s scheming nature does not affect the core case of whether Clinton committed perjury or obstructed justice in attempting to conceal his affair with the former White House intern.

Democrats also contend that the documents present a far more harmless picture of the effort by White House aides to help Lewinsky find a job. The assistance is not clearly tied to her emergence as a potential witness in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual harassment case, they argue.

Republicans, meanwhile, prefer to stress the grand jury testimony of former Clinton advisor Dick Morris. He testified, they say, that presidential allies had mounted a “secret police operation to go around and intimidate women” who had had some kind of relationship with the president.

Another highlight from the Republican perspective is the testimony of presidential aide Sidney Blumenthal, who said that he once mentioned Lewinsky to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. She assured him, officials said, that the president was just “ministering to a troubled young person.”

For now, with the documents still at the printer, only spin is available. Release of the actual records, originally expected Thursday, may be delayed for several days because of printing problems.

The Government Printing Office is normally overwhelmed this time of year reproducing appropriations bills for the start of the new fiscal year on Thursday.

House rules dictate that the printing of appropriations bills takes precedence over run-of-the-mill House documents--even sought-after ones like the Starr report.

Full text of documents released from the Starr investigation and video of President Clinton’s testimony are on The Times’ Web site, at https://www.latimes.com/scandal

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