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`WITCH HUNT’ IN HOUSE, BUT NOT IN SENATE

SHARE `WITCH HUNT’ IN HOUSE, BUT NOT IN SENATE

After the first-phase Whitewater hearings ended Friday, Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, said House inquiries were little more than a "witch hunt" by Republicans.

But Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, R-Utah, say less rancorous Senate hearings showed the White House took steps - through sloppiness or skullduggery - that could have allowed it to manipulate banking probes affecting President and Hillary Clinton.And while Orton said fellow Democrats and Republicans on the House Banking Committee agreed on nothing, Hatch and Bennett said the Senate Banking Committee agreed that Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Altman misled it last February about White House actions.

"I believe he should resign," Bennett said. "He has lost the confidence of at least the Senate committee to the point that he may not be able to do the job."

Bennett, a member of the Senate Banking Committee, said at the end of the hearings, "I don't have any questions remaining. I think I understand what happened, and who did what to whom."

He said he agrees with Democrats that the White House broke no laws or formal ethical standards and did nothing to impede the normal Resolution Trust Corp. investigation of Whitewater land deals and the downfall of Madison Guaranty - involving friends of the Clintons.

"I disagree, however, that all there was was some sloppy procedure. They tried to put themselves in the posture where they could have impeded the procedure. Whether they would have, we will never know," Bennett said.

Temporarily joining the banking committee to represent White-water interests of the Judiciary Committee, Hatch said the White House applied pressure to ensure that someone friendly - namely Altman - would be in charge of decisions on Whitewater, and then tried to cover its tracks.

Altman told the committee in February that he had only one contact with the White House on Whitewater, but hearings showed he had 40.

Hatch said it also seems clear to him that Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos took steps to try to have the RTC fire Republican attorney Jay Stephens from working on Whitewater - fearing he would be too tough - even though Stephanopoulos says he didn't.

"We are forced to conclude either that there is some sort of bizarre conspiracy under which (Treasury Chief of Staff) Joshua Steiner was lying to his diary and (Treasury counsel) Jean Hansen and Roger Altman have lied to this committee . . . or we must conclude that Mr. Stephanopoulos has not been fully candid," Hatch said.

Orton said House hearings lacked the cooperation and focus Senate hearings had and blamed Republicans - who, he said, raised a continuous stream of allegations without proving them.

"The witch-hunt aspect came from the Republican side," he said. "They were doing everything they could to damage Bill Clinton politically."

But he said Republicans brought no new evidence, and other probes by the special prosecutor, the Office of Government Ethics and others had already looked at allegations and said no violations of laws or ethics occurred.

"Of the information brought forward, I have not seen one shred of evidence to support any single allegation that's been made," he said.

"They (Republicans) would make an allegation, and when it was disproven by witnesses, they wouldn't acknowledge that but just go on to another allegation," Orton said. "That damages the presidency, not just Bill Clinton."

Of course, House Republicans said Democrats severely limited what questions they could ask and what documents they could introduce, and they blame Democrats for taking extraordinary measures to protect Clinton.

Orton - a conservative maverick who has often been at odds with Clinton on key legislation - said he found himself in the unusual position of being described by national media as one of Clinton's most staunch defenders on the House committee.

"I was on Crossfire, CNN and PBS as one of the strongest defenders of the president, even though I haven't voted with him all that much," he said. "But you have to be honest and fair with him and not misleading to the public. The hearings often weren't."

The hearings so far were only on the Washington phases of investigations by the special prosecutor in the Whitewater case. Later hearings on Arkansas dealings are expected to follow completion of that part of the investigation.