WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Senate panel approved a plan on Wednesday for issuing dozens of subpoenas as part of a broad congressional inquiry of the Justice Department's handling of the Waco, campaign finance and China spying investigations.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, brushing aside Democratic objections, approved a procedure to be used for issuing up to 38 subpoenas for thousands of documents related to the investigations.
Democrats said the subcommittee probe and the possible subpoenas were too broad and already had been covered by multiple congressional and government investigations.
The subpoenas, to be aimed at officials including Attorney General Janet Reno, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Defense Secretary William Cohen, would seek ``any and all'' documents related to all three probes.
The subcommittee's investigation, launched on a wave of Republican unhappiness with Reno, is looking into lingering questions about whether the Justice Department bungled aspects of the probes.
Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who is heading the investigation, said the subpoenas would be needed only if the material was not turned over voluntarily.
They could be issued during the congressional recess only if approved by committee Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah at the request of Specter and the subcommittee's ranking Democrat, Robert Torricelli of New Jersey.
``This is not a fishing expedition,'' Specter said. ``Let's find out what the facts are.''
But Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, a Democrat, said the subcommittee was going over old ground.
``We're going to run this simultaneously after we've already done this in the House and the Senate?'' Biden said of the Waco probe, noting it would clash with an ongoing investigation by former Sen. John Danforth, who has complained about Specter's investigation.
The new Waco investigations were prompted by the FBI's recent admission, after six years of denials, that its agents fired potentially flammable tear gas canisters at a concrete bunker hours before the Texas compound went up in flames, killing cult leader David Koresh and about 80 followers. Specter said the probe's focus was expanded beyond the disastrous 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound because each of the other controversies raised questions about oversight of the Justice Department. The department's handling of possible Chinese spying at the Los Alamos, New Mexico, nuclear lab, of questions surrounding possible high-technology transfers to Beijing by U.S. companies and of possible campaign finance irregularities during the 1996 election campaign also are being investigated.
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