Judiciary Committee schedules vote on impeachment inquiry
Partisan battle continues over impeachment inquiry
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, September 24) -- House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde announced Thursday his committee will consider a resolution to begin an impeachment inquiry against President Bill Clinton in an open session on October 5 or October 6. Should the resolution pass, the full House would vote on it October 8 or October 9.
The Illinois Republican, meeting with reporters, said the Judiciary committee's staff has been pouring over Independent Counsel Ken Starr's report and will brief the full committee next week in preparation for the vote.
If the House votes for a formal impeachment inquiry, the Judiciary Committee will then go back to work, deciding whether to send formal articles of impeachment to the House floor.
Judiciary Committee member Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts), in a news conference responding to Hyde, complained that Hyde's schedule is an attempt to run out the clock on the current Congress.
"This is a timetable for making sure nothing gets resolved before the elections," Frank said. "I don't understand what's going to take many, many more months other than the need for the Republicans to resolve their political dilemma, which is how do you satisfy your own people who want an impeachment with the general public who appears to be less so."
On Wednesday, House Minority leader Dick Gephardt (D-Missouri) challenged House members to set a timetable to complete the House's part of the Starr report review and possible impeachment process. The minority leader suggested giving the House 30 days to fulfill its responsibilities. That would have the politically volatile issue out of the House before the November mid-term elections.
But several sources have said House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) told Gephardt it would be irresponsible to limit the time of the investigation while the attorney-client privilege appeal involving Bruce Lindsey, the deputy White House counsel and the president's closest confidant, remains unresolved, saying significant new information may still become available.
What about a plea bargain?
Hyde also dismissed Thursday talk of a deal to avoid impeachment, saying he wasn't "entranced" with the idea and doesn't know of a single Republican on his committee who was seriously considering the idea.
"When all the distractions and diversions have been made, at the end of it all we're about one mighty task, and that's vindicating the rule of law," Hyde said. "Therefore, it's very important that we don't get sidetracked by attempts to cut deals or cry wolf about partisanship, but keep our eye on the ball."
Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) went even further, calling any thought of a "plea bargain" unconstitutional.
"Let's dispense with the notion that Congress can punish the president either by a so-called censure or by a fine or any other punishment," DeLay said on the House floor Thursday. "Such a deal is unconstitutional, and anyone who believes in that kind of deal believes not in the rule of law, but the rule of man, and needs to read the Constitution."
But Democrats believe it's just another example of partisan politics.
"It does seem to me one consistent principle is governing them (the Republicans). 'How do we make the president look bad and our side look good?'" Frank said.
When asked earlier Thursday about the political maneuvering on Capitol Hill and his opinion of an appropriate punishment for his actions, Clinton focused on getting back to work on his policy agenda.
"The right thing to do is for us all to focus on what's best for the American people," Clinton said during a Rose Garden appearance. "And the right thing for me to do is what I'm doing. I'm working on leading our country, and I'm working on healing my family."
Where are those Linda Tripp tapes?
Lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee are due to meet again Friday, looking to make public the remaining boxes of evidence from Starr sometime next week. An estimated 16,000 pages of information remain under review.
"There are quite a number of boxes," said Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Florida), a committee member. "I'm advised by staff that this isn't going to contain much sensational material. We're still reviewing over it. I don't think we should raise the level of expectation that there's a whole lot more to be seen in this material."
But the remaining evidence could include tapes or transcripts of Monica Lewinsky's phone conversations with her former friend Linda Tripp about Lewinsky's sexual relationship with Clinton. It was Tripp's cooperation in handing over the tapes to Starr that triggered the independent counsel's investigation of the Lewinsky affair. News leaks of a small portion of those conversations also fueled the media frenzy when the story broke last January.
When asked about the release of the Tripp audio tapes, Hyde was cautious.
"There is information that should be released. We can redact transcripts of the taped material and release those. That, so far, seems to be the best way," Hyde said. "But there is an awful lot there that shouldn't go out."
Supporters of the president charge the tapes contain evidence that could benefit Clinton. And although many Democrats do not support releasing the tapes, they do charge a Republican double standard.
"Can anyone think of a principled justification for releasing ... the videotape of the president, but not the audio tape of Linda Tripp?" Frank asked. "The Republicans started out saying they were going to treat the president like everybody else. Well, apparently, Linda Tripp isn't everybody else."
Will the investigation expand beyond the Lewinsky affair?
Another bone of partisan contention is whether the Lewinsky investigation before the House will expand to include other presidential behavior.
Democratic sources have said Gingrich told Gephardt Wednesday that Republicans were inclined to expand any impeachment inquiry to include campaign finance matters and perhaps any additional information Starr might forward to Congress.
When asked Thursday, Hyde would not rule out expanding the investigation.
"If you recall from the introduction in the referral from the independent counsel, he said they were nearly through with their Whitewater, Filegate, Travelgate investigations," Hyde said. "And now they're going back to those other matters.
Who's really in charge? Hyde or Gingrich?
The White House complained Wednesday that members of the House who have spoken with Gingrich quoted him as saying the investigation could go on for "months and months."
Hyde "has indicated these matters are above his pay grade. He's not making these calls on these matters; presumably the speaker is calling the shots," White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said.McCurry went on to say that some Republicans would also favor a quick resolution but they are unwilling "to say so publicly because they fly in the face of the jihad caucus of their own party."
"That is a spin from out of nowhere," Hyde said. "All I know is every time I give advice to Newt, he nods his head affirmatively."
CNN's John King, Bob Franken and Ann Curley contributed to this report.
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