Congressmen hit talk show circuit
President's lawyers continue to attack Starr's report
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Sept. 13) -- As Congress continues to absorb the 445-page Starr report detailing alleged perjury and obstruction of justice by President Bill Clinton, several Republican lawmakers suggested Sunday that impeachment proceedings were likely.
Members of Congress agreed on their disgust for the president's conduct with Monica Lewinsky, but several also said they want to move cautiously on any impeachment process.
"I believe that if you commit perjury under oath and you suborn perjury and you obstruct justice, then you ought to be impeached," House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said there is "overwhelming" evidence the president was guilty of the charges, and he doesn't see how the president will avoid impeachment.
"I think clearly perjury or lying to a ... grand jury could be grounds for impeachment, but it will depend on how the Congress views the whole set of facts," Lott told "Fox News Sunday." "I think all the charges are very serious."
But House Minority Whip David Bonior (D-Mich.), appearing with DeLay, said he did not believe the president should be impeached, in part because Americans are satisified that Clinton has done a good job in office.
"I think what we have here is a situation in which the president's personal behavior, inappropriate and offensive as it is, is being weighed by the American people and by members of Congress with his job performance as president of the United States," Bonior said. "He has done a good job for this country."
The latest CNN poll shows that 64 percent of Americans do not want Clinton impeached. But DeLay said the issue will not be decided by polls or ruled by the upcoming midterm elections.
"This isn't about polls," DeLay said. "This isn't about politics. This isn't about who is going to be the next president. It's about fulfilling the oath of office and fulfilling the constitutional responsiblity. But more importantly, it's about right and wrong."
Independent Counsel Ken Starr's report presented Congress with 11 possible grounds for impeachment stemming from allegations of perjury, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and abuse of power. It also included graphic details describing Clinton's sexual relationship with Lewinsky, a former White House intern.
In an attempt to knock down Starr's allegations, Clinton's legal team issued another rebuttal Saturday and argued on the Sunday talk shows that Starr failed to make his legal case and had included unnecessary graphic sexual detail to humiliate the president.
Clinton's personal attorney, David Kendall, said, "The president of the United States has acknowledged wrongdoing and is trying to make up for it. He has commited no impeachable offenses, and none are in this report."
Meanwhile, the deputy White House chief of staff told CNN that Clinton has not read Starr's report and has no plans to do so.
"He's trying to put the episode behind him," John Podesta told CNN's "Late Edition." "He's decided that he's said what he has to say to the country and he is working on the healing process. I don't think that dwelling in Mr. Starr's version and Mr. Starr's allegations will help him in any way in the healing process."
Podesta said he doubts that the first lady has read the report, and hopes that she has not.
"There's much in that report that was intended to be hurtful," he said. "Mr. Starr's motivation for putting all of this salacious detail ... into this report had nothing to do with whether he (Clinton) did or he didn't commit perjury. It was really intended to put it in the public record to try to humiliate and embarrass the president."
As attention focused on the charge that Clinton lied during his deposition in the civil lawsuit brought by Paula Jones, the president's lawyers insisted repeatedly that Clinton did not commit perjury.
"In the January 17 deposition, the president did not perjure himself. He did not volunteer information; he did not, I'll agree, try to help the Jones lawyers," Kendall said on ABC's "This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts."
White House counsel Charles Ruff insisted on NBC's "Meet The Press" that Starr's investigation of the president was an "unjustified inquiry into this president's conduct."
"Whatever is in that report ... there is no basis for beginning an impeachment proceeding," Ruff said.
As the White House lawyers attack Starr, they are also placing the blame on the Jones legal teams. Ruff characterized their deposition as "a mess" and the legal definition of sex they provided to the president as "contorted."
"The questions ... were asked in a way that simply did not, and could not, for any fair prosecutor, form the basis for prosecution," Ruff said. "The president surely did answer narrowly, answer carefully. The president did not want to reveal to Miss Jones' lawyers, or to the people ... that he had an improper relation with Miss Lewinsky."
Ruff says "as painful as it was, as difficult as it was," Clinton admitted to Starr's grand jury on August 17 that he had had a "wrongful, sexual, intimate relationship with Miss Lewinsky."
Clinton did not offer details of the affair during that testimony, and the Starr report shouldn't have either, Ruff said.
Two key Senate Republicans urged the president to drop the defense tactic of attacking Starr and parsing the legal definition of sex.
"If (Clinton) begins the process with attacks, and says this is just a smear, that doesn't help ... If they continue to argue the 'legally accurate' approach, it won't fly," Lott said. "What he did was so offensive, so indefensible, so reckless."
Lott criticized Clinton for attempting to show his contrition while allowing his lawyers to aggressively attack the process. He said Clinton is "continuing the very things, I think, that got him in trouble -- legal niceties, and trying to explain problems that can't just be dismissed."
Sen. Orrin Hatch, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called Starr's report "dramatic" and said there is credible evidence of criminal wrongdoing, perjury, tampering with witnesses and obstruction of justice.
Hatch (R-Utah) said Clinton needs to address "dramatic" and credible evidence of criminal wrongdoing and quit attacking Starr.
"He ought to quit splitting legal hairs," Hatch told CBS' "Face The Nation." "He ought to get rid of this legalism stuff. The American people are a lot smarter than these $400-an-hour lawyers think they are."
Even some Democrats agree that Clinton would do better to stop arguing legal specifics.
"The president's going to lose if they continue to do that," Sen. Bob Kerry (D-Neb) told CBS. "If you come and say to the American people that 'I'm legally correct, I didn't have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky,' you're going to lose."
In defending the president, both of Clinton's attorneys argued that none of Starr's charges rise to the level of impeachable offenses.
"Having admitted that he did wrong, there's still the critical question, 'Do we want to launch the single most serious constitutional process that our system contemplates?' And the answer to that, in my view, is no," Ruff said.
But Republican lawmakers appear to disagree. Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Florida), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the charges in Starr's report are "high crimes and misdemeanors if proven."
Appearing on CNN's "Late Edition," McCollum continued: "And why are they? Because you're talking about witness-tampering in the case of Betty Currie. You're talking about trying to influence Monica Lewinsky's affidavit in a court proceeding. You're talking about lying under oath, not just in her deposition, but before the grand jury, when you raise your right hand and say, 'I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.'
"If the president -- that's if -- if he actually did those things, it would be impossible for us to allow him to stay in office, or else we'd be undermining the rule of law," McCollum said.
But Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California), who appeared with McCollum, said the founding fathers put impeachment in the Constitution as a safety valve, to permit the removal of a chief executive who might try to destroy the system of government.
"Ben Franklin called it the alternative to assassination," Lofgren said. "That's how serious they saw it.
"We can only undo the election if the behavior meets the constitutional standard of subverting and threatening our system of government," Lofgren said.
Rep. Bob Barr (R-Georgia) told CNN Sunday his constituents overwhelmingly favor the impeachment of the president, while Rep. Eliot Engel (D-New York) said people in his district think Independent Counsel Ken Starr's report was a "witch hunt" and the president should remain in office.
In the wake of the Starr report's release Friday, Barr and Engel both said they gauged the mood of voters in their districts at weekend parades and barbecues back home.
Barr said he had talked "to hundreds of people. These were not Republican activists, these were average citizens."
"They told me to impeach the man," Barr said. "This is not only a disgrace to our country but they fear for our national security -- leaving in office a man that is laboring under such a burden. This president is very distracted, they believe, and they want this mess to end."
Engel said he found quite a different view. "All the people" he talked with overwhelmingly favor Clinton staying in office, he said.
"They don't like the Ken Starr witch hunt. ... They think (Clinton) has been doing a good job," Engel said. "The Clinton-haters will never be satisfied."
Engel said the president "made a mistake; there is no doubt about it." But he said the report by Starr was meant only "to embarrass and humiliate the president" and that "all the people in my district think he should stay in office."
A bipartisan House inquiry?
Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), who appeared on "Fox News Sunday," said the House will conduct "a full, fair and impartial inquiry" into Clinton's actions.
Rep. John Dingell (D-Michigan), who appeared with Boehner, said he wants to see how Republicans conduct the inquiry, noting that Republicans were full partners in the Watergate hearings, even though they were in the minority then.
"I trust them, but I'm watching them very closely," Dingell said.
Sunday September 13, 1998
Congressmen hit talk show circuit
Poll: Public wants Clinton censured, but not removed