WASHINGTON -- Showing his traditional independence, Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez told the House leadership last week he plans to conduct Whitewater hearings on his own terms.
In a letter to Speaker Thomas S. Foley released Monday, the banking committee chairman pointedly noted that he had not been consulted about the scope of the hearing and said some areas of inquiry not mentioned by the House leader should be investigated.
In particular, he cited the contacts among the White House, Treasury, and Resolution Trust Corp. on the failure and disposition of Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, an Arkansas thrift with which President Clinton had dealings.
Although those contacts are among the three areas the House leadership agreed to investigate, Rep. Gonzalez warned that the contacts "lead directly into the question of whether there was improper conduct in the handling of Madison.
"A hearing that fails to address this will be seen as arbitrary, incomplete, and not credible, as editorial comment already shows," the Texas Democrat said.
The Democratic and Republican leaders of the House agreed last week to hold "several days" of hearings on three aspects of the Whitewater-Madison affair, probably beginning next month.
Congressional sources said Democrats have used the prospect of Whitewater hearings to press Republicans on key legislative issues, including interstate branching and President Clinton's Community Development Financial Institutions bill.
Democratic aides have argued that it is important to move both measures to the President's desk by July 4 in order to clear the decks for Whitewater hearings in July. Both measures are the subject of House-Senate negotiations.
In addition, the debate over hearings is holding up other matters of interest to bankers. In particular, Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., has a hold on the nomination of Ricki Tigert to be chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
The Senate approved a resolution last week setting a timetable for hearings, but Republicans are expected to press amendments today in an effort to broaden the scope of the hearings.
In the House, Rep. Gonzalez is warning now that "there is a great deal of work to be done" before hearings can be held.
The banking committee chairman also warned in his letter to Speaker Foley that Republicans would likely insist on widening the scope of the investigation.
"It is to be expected that they will argue that the planned hearings are incomplete since they do not include the failure of Madison, its regulation, and issues related to Madison's operation," he said. "It is also to be expected that those complaints will be accompanied by disruptive tactics in the Committee and in the House."
Rep. Gonzalez also argued some of the areas of inquiry specified by the leadership go outside the proper jurisdiction of the banking committee.
"I see no reason to further torment the family of Vincent Foster," he said, referring to the White House aide who committed suicide last year.
Although Rep. Foley had said the panel should explore circumstances surrounding Mr. Foster's death, Rep. Gonzalez said congressional committees are not capable "of acting in any way as a coroner or homicide investigator."
Rep. Gonzalez also said the panel should not review the way in which Mr. Foster's papers were handled after his death. Because Mr. Foster served as the Clinton's personal attorney on some matters, some here have suggested that documents related to Whitewater may have been removed.
The three subjects of public hearings agreed to by the House leadership are: White House contacts with Treasury and the RTC on Madison Guaranty, whether Mr. Foster's death was a homicide or suicide, and whether the White House acted properly in handling Mr. Foster's paper's following his death.