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Democrats working on 'censure-plus' alternative

Details of remaining Starr material trickle out

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, September 30) -- As the House Judiciary Committee prepares to release thousands of additional pages of material about the sex-and-perjury investigation of President Bill Clinton, Democrats on the panel are working on an alternative to Republican plans for impeachment hearings.

Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary committee, told reporters Wednesday House Democrats are crafting a so-called "censure-plus" proposal.

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"There is an alternative that is being worked on that is not ready for discussion now, and members on the committee and others in the Congress are carrying on conversations to report to myself and (House Minority) Leader (Dick) Gephardt tomorrow afternoon. We will try to craft an alternative that is both fair and prompt," Conyers said.

Clinton, Starr

Some lawmakers have suggested a "censure-plus" could include a fine or a requirement that Clinton pay the costs of Independent Counsel Ken Starr's inquiry since January.

Referring to poll numbers that show a majority of Americans do not want Clinton impeached, Conyers said, "Now is there anyone in the land that doesn't know that the American people want us to move on, that they've had enough? And so we're trying to find a proportional resolution to this problem that will comport to what I think is the mood of the nation and will still do justice to the legislative process that deals with the question before us."

In addition to their own censure motion, Democratic sources tell CNN the Democrats want to set a time limit on the investigation and a limit on the subjects the committee will investigate.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde has said the committee will debate and vote next week on whether Starr's referral warrants impeachment hearings. While Hyde would not predict the outcome of the vote in the Republican-dominated committee, he said he personally believed there was enough evidence to warrant beginning impeachment hearings.

Sources say that committee meeting will likely take place Monday.

Details of additional Starr material trickle out

The next step, though, for the Judiciary Committee is another massive release of documents, and some details are already emerging about the remaining evidence sent to Capitol Hill by Starr to support his report outlining possible impeachable offenses by Clinton.

According to sources familiar with the material, set to be released by the committee Friday or Monday, the pages includes transcripts of grand jury appearances by high-level Clinton aides as well as transcripts of conversations between Lewinsky and Linda Tripp.

Republicans and Democrats are leaking the contents with decidedly different spins.

Republicans point to the ex-intern talking about the Clinton White House in a taped conversation with Tripp. Tripp was wearing a recording device provided by Starr's investigators when Lewinsky says, "I wouldn't cross these people for fear of my life."

But Democratic sources say the key point will be how Tripp in her earlier secretly-taped conversations "manipulates" Lewinsky, at one point suggesting she should seek out Vernon Jordan, Clinton's close friend, for a job.

Lewinsky says the idea for getting a job was Tripp's, according to the Democratic source.

From the Republicans, concerning Bruce Lindsey, a longtime confidant of the president and deputy White House counsel: That before the grand jury Lindsey claimed executive privilege regarding conversations he had with Vernon Jordan. Jordan was not and is not a government employee, but Lindsey still claimed he was an adviser of the president.

Betty Currie testified, say Democrats, that she in fact was the one who was concerned about Lewinsky's unfair treatment and tried to help her find a job.

But White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, Republicans point out, tells the grand jury the president personally asked him to find Lewinsky a job in late summer or fall of 1997.

Also from the Republicans comes word that the president's political consultant Dick Morris, who had to resign two years ago amidst his own sex scandal, claimed the White House maintained "a secret political operation to go around and intimidate women" who were reported to have some sort of relationship with Clinton.

Democrats claim the testimony of Secret Service officers will not include any firsthand observations of Lewinsky and the president in any compromising situation. "I don't think there's going to be much more prurient detail," said one Democrat.

White House works to quiet Democratic anger

With spin important to the future of any possible impeachment inquiry, Clinton Administration officials are eager to keep Democrats on the side of the president.

Top White House aides are working quickly to try to quiet the latest wave of anger from congressional Democrats by assuring them that plans have been dropped to ask Clinton allies to fund a multi-million dollar ad campaign designed to boost the president's standing.

Congressional Democrats were outraged, saying money is hard to come by and should go directly to the most competitive 1998 House and Senate races, not to any effort to help the president.

Bowles assured top Democrats the plans are being scuttled.

One Clinton ally is going ahead with a major ad campaign despite the complaints from congressional Democrats. The liberal group, People for the American Way, says its ads will make the case the Republican Congress is too obsessed with scandal.

The Watergate standard

Republicans have proposed using the same Judiciary Committee rules that were put in place for impeachment hearings against President Richard Nixon. Hyde has asked the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution to hold a hearing on what constitutes an impeachable offense. That subcommittee has not yet met.

Conyers, the only committee member who was in the House during the Nixon impeachment proceedings, said that while Democrats support the proposal, Republicans have already violated those rules by releasing material turned over by Starr.

He said while the Watergate rules "make sense, we are a little bit late in the game" to impose them because of the release of Clinton's videotaped grand jury testimony and other materials used in Starr's report.

On September 11, the independent counsel's 445-page referral, which included much sexually explicit material, was released to the public. On September 21, lawmakers released about 3,200 pages of supporting material and the videotape of the president's grand jury testimony.

Conyers said while House Speaker Newt Gingrich has said that the investigation would likely be open-ended, there is no reason for such a wide-ranging investigation.

"Watergate involved a wholesale corruption of government," Conyers said. "This matter involves the concealing of a private affair in which the majority of facts are already known."

The White House also scoffed as Republican comparisons of the Clinton impeachment debate to the Watergate investigation, labelling it as "just nonsense."

White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry also said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was guilty of a "double standard" by saying the president's offensive personal conduct might itself be grounds for impeachment.

As a member of the House Judiciary Committee in 1974, Lott signed on to a GOP statement setting crimes against the Constitution as the proper impeachment standard. Now, however, McCurry said Lott seemed to be saying "bad table manners is grounds for impeachment."

McCurry also said the House proceedings so far "lack focus, lack the level of discourse" that went into the Judiciary Committee proceedings on Watergate.

In his report, Starr alleges there are 11 charges that could result in impeachment of the president. Starr's investigation focused on whether Clinton had an affair with Lewinsky, lied about it in sworn testimony, and then urged her and others to cover it up.

The president has admitted to having an improper relationship with Lewinsky and has publicly asked for forgiveness. He has contended, however, he did not lie in a deposition he gave in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit against him or in grand jury testimony.

In response to Starr's report, the president's attorneys have said that no matter whether he lied or not, his conduct does not approach an impeachable offense.

CNN's Bob Franken and John King contributed to this report.

Investigating the President

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Wednesday, September 30, 1998



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