The hearings of the Senate Whitewater committee illustrated how the lack of legal protections allow politicians to misuse witnesses and distort testimony.

The result of such bias: two final reports divided along partisan lines.The panel's recently completed hearings resembled a judicial proceeding because witnesses testified in response to questions from senators. But the hearings differed in one important way: There was no impartial arbiter to rule on disputes or to prevent senators from improper questioning.

The committee obtained much of its testimony through closed-door depositions conducted by lawyers for the Republicans and Democrats. Although Senate Resolution 120 specified the boundaries of the Whitewater inves- tigation, the lawyers were free to explore anything.

The committee distorted its fact-finding in another way. The Republicans, as the majority, chose which witnesses would appear and when they would appear. The Democrats never had the right to present witnesses.

Imagine a trial in which one side is able to subpoena anyone and ask him or her anything, while the other side doesn't have any right to call any witnesses.

No senator stayed to listen to all the testimony, and most senators did not hear most of the testimony.

As I compared my clients' private depositions with the snippets excerpted for the public hearing, I doubted that the committee wanted to discover the truth about Whitewater. The public should have no confidence in the panel's conclusions.

Can any report be fair if it is based on distorted testimony?