WASHINGTON - The usually nonpartisan Senate Banking Committee kicked off the new year with a round of party-line bickering that could set the tone for the year's legislative work.
On Tuesday, Democratic and Republican members of the panel released separate reports on the hearings held to examine President Clinton's involvement with the failed Whitewater Development Corp. and Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan.
Needless to say, the Republicans view of the Whitewater affair differed dramatically from the Democrat's version.
In particular, said chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato, GOP lawmakers disagree with the Democrats' statement that they could find "no law or ethics standard that clearly prohibited the RTC/Treasury/White House contacts that occurred in 1993 regarding the criminal referrals in the Madison case."
Former deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman told the panel he had briefed the White House on the Resolution Trust Corp. investigation into Madison. At the time, Mr. Altman also served as head of the RTC's oversight board.
"A couple of my colleagues held a press conference in which they filed some minority views," Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., said on Tuesday, referring to Sen. D'Amato's press briefing.
"I'd be less than candid here if I didn't express some disappointment in those minority views, because they (Republicans) clearly seem to want to drag these issues around endlessly."
Sen. Dodd is the panel's second-ranking Democratic member.
The Republican report found that the Democratic report "assiduously avoids evaluating evidence and drawing conclusions."
"It seems evident there was a pattern of White House involvement at the highest level as it relates to then Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman and his statements about his recusals, the criminal referral process relating to White House counsel Harold Ickes, and the clear improprieties and leaks that occurred between the White House and the RTC," Sen. D'Amato said.
"He's someone clearly who wants to make more of this politically," said Sen. Dodd when asked whether he thought Sen. D'Amato was deliberately attempting to smear Mr. Altman.
"I don't think that you can deny the fact that Whitewater is going to be a partisan issue in the upcoming hearings," said Ron Ence, director of legislative affairs for the Independent Bankers Association of America.
Sen. D'Amato has said that he will consult with Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel, before holding additional Whitewater hearings this year in order to avoid interfering with Mr. Starr's investigation.
The Republican report also outlined areas that this year's hearings will address: the scope and impact of improper dissemination of confidential RTC information, contacts between the White House and the Justice Department, and the handling of documents in White House deputy counsel Vincent Foster's office after his suicide in July 1993.
In October 1993, the RTC asked federal prosecutors in Little Rock to investigate whether deposits at Madison were improperly used to benefit political campaigns, including a reelection bid by Bill Clinton when he was Arkansas governor.
The hearings held last year examined the propriety of contacts on Whitewater issues among officials at the RTC, Treasury Department, and White House.