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GOP Turns Prying Eyes on Clinton and Friends

December 6, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ It’s snowing on Capitol Hill _ has been for months. Subpoenas, threats of subpoenas and documents galore swirl about in a storm of inquiry into every hint of White House cronyism and malfeasance.

The forecast for Election Year 1996: More of the same, blindingly so.

The chairman of a House oversight panel jumped into the fray Tuesday by saying he will pursue allegations the Clintons owe $13,272 in back taxes from seven to 17 years ago.

That line of inquiry by Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., is founded on the premise that ``failure to pay your taxes is one of the few things in life that cannot be escaped.″

Inquiring Republicans _ and their taxpayer-financed hearings _ are something else President Clinton and his associates can’t escape.

Whether it’s Whitewater, with its many and still spreading branches of investigation, or the travel office affair, or Commerce Secretary Ron Brown’s expenses, or Waco, Ruby Ridge, the secretive health reform task force, even alleged drug-running at a remote Arkansas airport in the 1980s, there’s been no stopping them.

It’s been double trouble for the administration, faced in many cases with House and Senate investigations on the same subject.

White House officials feel so put upon they have taken to quoting Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk show host, as saying of Republicans: ``And they better find something on Whitewater fast or let it go.″

``Republicans refuse to hold even one day of hearings on their drastic Medicare cuts, yet they’ve spent millions of tax dollars and thousands of hours rehashing tired old stories and settling political grudges,″ said Mark Fabiani, special associate White House counsel.

That’s a familiar complaint. Congressional muckraking and protests about its cost and futility go hand in hand through one administration after another.

The Reagan administration highlighted the expense of the Iran-Contra inquiries; congressional Democrats investigated banking controversies during the 1992 campaign, then dropped it when Republican George Bush lost.

``The Republicans had 40 years in the wilderness and they came in and are feeling their oats,″ Stephen Hess at the Brookings Institution said of the congressional majority.

``They were subjected to the indignity of being subpoenaed and called up before the klieg lights.″

Now they’re returning the disfavor, ever closer to the campaign. Dark paneled hearing rooms have become staging areas for lines of attack, every morsel of questionable behavior stored for the coming fight.

Meanwhile, some of the Whitewater drama is petering out.

As the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette told readers back home, seats that people lined up for before dawn when Whitewater hearings began in July are mostly empty now, and one reporter brings her knitting.

The White House claims Whitewater investigations alone have cost more than $27.6 million.

``They’re not really coming to any conclusions,″ said University of Alabama political scientist Karen Cartee, an authority on negative political advertising. ``People feel uncomfortable about it but it hasn’t changed their assessment much.″

Republicans say Clinton and his friends have created problems for themselves by not being forthcoming.

``I’m not being a tax collector for the IRS,″ Bachus said of his attempt to clarify Clinton’s tax liability from the 1980s. ``I’m just saying, what did you determine?

``We do have an obligation when these matters come up to follow on through.″

Inquiries continue to expand. The House committee looking into the improper firing of White House travel office employees is intensifying its focus on Hollywood producer Harry Thomason and his influence with Clinton.

Thomason released 200 pages of records under pressure from the committee and faces the threat of a subpoena to turn over more.

In a memo from the Republican majority leader’s office, circulated among GOP staffers a few months after they took control of Congress, ways were suggested to tie the administration in knots.

``Demand documents, draft tough letters and recall (congressional Democrats) who forced Republican administrations to spend a lot of time on their requests,″ the memo said.

``Philosophy _ the more time employees of the administration have to respond to legitimate congressional requests, the less time they have to carry out their agenda.″

``Obviously there’s politics involved,″ Hess said of the battery of investigations. ``But they’re all politicians.″

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