Starr Mulls Document Request

Despite Democratic maneuvering to focus the House impeachment inquiry on the prosecutor, not the president, independent counsel Kenneth Starr's office is reviewing a senior Democrat's request for sensitive investigative documents.

The materials sought by Michigan Rep. John Conyers, top Democrat in the House inquiry, were described in a letter by a Starr aide Wednesday as related to areas "under active investigation or otherwise very sensitive."

Deputy independent counsel Robert J. Bittman wrote Conyers that he would receive a response Monday on the materials - some of them reflecting on the way in which Starr conducted his investigation of the Monica Lewinsky matter.

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With congressional elections Tuesday and House Judiciary Committee members in their home districts, committee aides jockeyed for advantage Wednesday.

Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., offered to work out a new, joint document request with Conyers - even as an aide to the chairman questioned the Democrat's motives.

Samuel Stratman, Hyde's press spokesman, said Conyers' request "raises relevant questions about whether Mr. Conyers is seeking to expand the scope of this inquiry and delay its final resolution."

Minority Democrats would like to focus much of the inquiry on Starr's conduct rather than President Clinton's efforts to conceal his sexual relationship with Lewinsky.

Republicans have insisted that in order to meet Hyde's goal of finishing by year's end, the inquiry must not be diverted from the crucial issue: whether Mr. Clinton's conduct warrants a House vote for articles of impeachment and a trial by the Senate.

Conyers wrote Starr on his own Tuesday, seeking records that supported expansion of the prosecutor's Whitewater investigation last January to the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship; documents requesting court permission to submit secret grand jury material to Congress in September; and pictures that Starr's office took of Lewinsky and her former friend, Linda Tripp, on Jan. 13.

Tripp wore an FBI "wire" to record the conversation between the women. Starr used information from that conversation to successfully seek permission to expand his investigation to include Lewinsky.

Democrats on the committee have questioned Starr's motives and conduct, saying he has not produced any material that would warrant removal of the president from office. Starr reported to the House he found "substantial and credible" information for 11 possible grounds for impeachment.

The Judiciary Committee's chief Republican investigator, David Schippers, reported 15 ossible grounds for impeachment although most of his findings covered the same grounds in a slightly revised form.

The committee, however, does not have to accept either of those reports, and Hyde has expressed the view that the investigation must be streamlined.

A Democratic official on the committee said Wednesday morning that Bittman had informed him that Starr would not honor any committee request unless Hyde was part of the request.

Hyde's office then promised to work with Conyers "to submit a bipartisan request" to Starr.

Written by Larry Margasak