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Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, is among House Banking Committee Democrats charging that its Whitewater hearings are a witch hunt against President Clinton - and are outside the panel's jurisdiction.

He helped fellow members blast Republicans and pepper chairman Jim Leach, R-Iowa, with a constant stream of points of order or parliamentary inquiry that slowed the hearings to snail's pace - requiring five hours just for opening statements on Wednesday."So why are we investigating Whitewater and not . . . any of the other thousands of ventures that lost billions of taxpayer dollars?" Orton asked in his opening statement.

He answered, while staring at Republicans, "Because Democrat Bill Clinton is president of the United States and 17 years ago he invested and lost money in Whitewater."

Orton charged the hearings are outside the committee's jurisdiction - arguing it should look only at ways to improve banking laws to ensure fraud and abuse are prevented, and not look at individual problematic thrifts involving celebrities.

"For instance, Mr. Chairman, what is the committee's jurisdictional authority to investigate the Clintons' tax returns?" Orton asked.

He added, "I do not seek to defend the errors or possible crimes of the past. If crimes have been committed, the criminals should go to jail. But that is not our jurisdiction." He said that is the role of the special counsel investigating Whitewater.

Also, Orton said, "If someone benefited at the taxpayers' expense, they should reimburse the taxpayers. But that, too, is outside our jurisdiction."

Orton complained, "The chairman has stated that the maximum loss to the (Whitewater-related Madison) savings and loan would be $88,000. We have already spent over $20 million investigating it."

Orton also accused Leach of not releasing all the committee's Whitewater documents to him as promised before the hearings.

Leach denied that, saying all committee members have had access to all documents for months - and said the only documents he didn't give Orton last year were criminal referrals he didn't want to make public because they might unfairly hurt Democrats.

As Leach tried to defend himself, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., raised one of his many points of order arguing Leach shouldn't have the right to defend himself after Orton's opening statement.

"You appear to think there is a rule that you cannot hurt the chairman's feelings, and there is no such rule," Frank argued. Leach banged his gavel calling Frank out of order, and went on to the next speaker.



Thwarted probe?

Appearing before a bitterly divided House committee, federal regulators whose work led to the Whitewater investigation testified Tuesday that top government officials thwarted their probe at nearly every turn.

"This committee should know that I believe there was a concerted effort to obstruct, hamper and manipulate the results of our investigation," Resolution Trust Corp. investigator Jean Lewis told the House Banking Committee.

Lewis said her investigation found substantial evidence of wrongdoing at the failed Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, the Arkansas thrift owned by the Clintons' Whitewater business partner. Among her findings, she said, was that S&L funds were illegally diverted both to President Clinton's gubernatorial campaign and the Whitewater real estate venture in the 1980s.