WASHINGTON -- Tired of waiting, Rep. Jim Leach on Wednesday filed suit against the Resolution Trust Corp. seeking release of documents pertaining to the Arkansas thrift that lent money to a real estate venture partially owned by then-Gov. Bill Clinton.

Rep. Leach, an Iowa Republican, was sharply critical of the RTC for not releasing documents on Whitewater Development Corp. voluntarily. As ranking Republican on the House Banking Committee, Rep. Leach said he was obligated to act because the Democrats who control Congress had not.

Letter to RTC Official

"The Constitution did not envisage that a member would be required to default on his or her individual responsibilities simply because a political determination may be made by an executive branch agency to withhold documents pertaining to a particularly embarrassing circumstance," he said in a letter to RTC acting general counsel James Barker.

The RTC declined to comment on the suit yesterday. However, in an earlier response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Rep. Leach, the RTC said that since the lawmaker was an individual member of Congress -- as opposed to a committee chairman -- he would be treated like any private citizen.

Accuses Democrats

In filing suit, Rep. Leach said the House Democratic majority had refused to uphold the law requiring regular oversight hearings on the RTC. In addition, he said, the majority had failed to respect the rules of the House that permit the minority party to call witnesses of its own choosing at hearings.

Both the House and Senate have agreed in principle to hold hearings on Whitewater, but have yet to nail down the details. If the impasse continues, some observers believe banking legislation could be affected.

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