BY DAVID ESPO
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- Republicans jettisoned campaign fund raising from their impeachment inquiry Thursday, likely clearing the way for a historic House Judiciary Committee vote next week over President Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky and his effort to cover it up.
At the same time, incoming Speaker Bob Livingston signaled a desire for the full House to convene in a pre-Christmas session to vote on any articles of impeachment that win committee approval.
"If the Judiciary Committee could complete its work next week, it would be my expectation that we could have a vote on the following week," the Louisiana Republican said.
Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has set aside Tuesday for the White House to present its defense. Thursday's developments amounted to strong signals that majority Republicans -- chastened by disappointing election results -- intend to move swiftly to wrap up the third presidential impeachment inquiry in the nation's history. Even so, while the GOP-controlled panel is expected to approve at least one article of impeachment on a
party line vote, the outcome on the House floor remains in doubt.
Democrats, as well as Republicans including Peter King of New York, intensified efforts during the day to craft an alternative that would stop short of impeachment.
Spokesman Kevin Fogarty said Mr. King and several other GOP lawmakers were laboring over a proposal that would "include a strong condemnation of Clinton and require him to pay a financial penalty and issue a statement acknowledging wrongdoing."
Key Democrats met privately with the party's leader, Rep. Richard Gephardt, and -- according to two sources speaking on condition of anonymity -- they will soon begin contacting Republican lawmakers outside the Judiciary Committee to see what bipartisan cooperation might be possible in the full House.
There still was no end Thursday to the skirmishing between the White House and the Judiciary Committee.
In a letter to top White House lawyers, the committee's general counsel, Thomas E. Mooney Sr., said that whoever delivers the formal defense of the president before the committee next week will be "subject to at least one full round of questioning" by the lawmakers on the panel and staff.
Mr. Mooney also said the White House must submit the names of any witnesses by today. While Mr. Livingston indicated he would like the House to convene after the panel votes, only Rep. Newt Gingrich, the outgoing speaker, has the power to call lawmakers back for a lame-duck session. Mr. Gingrich is expected to agree to do so if Mr. Livingston asks.
The GOP suffered unexpected setbacks in last month's elections, and polls indicate that the public wants the curtain to come down on the long-running national drama involving the president and the former White House intern.
Mr. Hyde has made it clear for several weeks he wants to wrap the panel's work up by year's end. At the same time, he
says he wants to pursue all legitimate leads.
On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee gained access to unedited, internal Justice Department memoranda relating to the agency's inquiry into alleged irregularities in Mr. Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign. Within hours, two committee lawyers journeyed to the Justice Department to read the memos.
Mr. Hyde relayed the results to GOP members of the panel in a Thursday morning conference call. "The committee will not address allegations involving abuse of campaign finance laws in its deliberations currently scheduled for next week," he later said in a written statement.
By then, Charles LaBella, the former head of the Justice Department's campaign finance inquiry, was en route to Washington from California to submit to a deposition. Mr. LaBella received the news of Mr. Hyde's decision on his pager. "I think they're running for the hills," he later said of the Republicans.
The decision to abandon the campaign finance aspect of the impeachment inquiry came a few days after Republicans similarly decided not to look in depth at allegations by Kathleen Willey, a former White House volunteer, that Mr. Clinton had made a sexual pass at her. Other areas have been dropped one-by-one, as well.
Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr advised the committee in a daylong appearance last month he had found no evidence of impeachable offenses in controversies involving FBI files at the White House, the firing of White House travel office officials and Whitewater, the failed Arkansas land deal in Arkansas he was originally appointed to investigate.