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Democrats push for alternative 'Watergate' model

By Bob Franken/CNN

WASHINGTON (September 30) -- Republicans claim the Democrats want it both ways: They like the "Watergate" model when it comes to procedure.

"We've been advocating the Watergate model. I support it," Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday.

But they don't like the Watergate model when it comes to scope.

"The notion that this review should be open-ended like Watergate, as the Speaker (Newt Gingrich) continues to insist, is preposterous," Conyers said.

Majority Republicans propose that when the impeachment inquiry officially begins, and few doubt that it will, the rules of engagement be modeled after the House Judiciary Committee hearings of 1974.

Democrats like the power-sharing arrangement of 24 years ago, with substantial subpoena power for the minority, for instance.

But they vehemently disagree with the 1974 provision that allowed the investigation to expand into so many seemingly unrelated areas of the Nixon presidency.

Congressional Democrats and the Clinton White House are using the same talking points, and ridiculing the comparison with Nixon.

"He misused the FBI, the Secret Service to conduct unlawful wiretapping of American citizens," White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said Wednesday. "He maintained a secret unit in the White House to violate the constitutional rights of citizens and he refused to provide information in a timely way to Congress, in contempt of Congress. So there is no parallel whatsoever."

So congressional Democrats are working on alternatives to the pure Watergate precedent. Theirs would set not only a limit to the subjects to be investigated, but set a time certain to end it.

Republicans are dead set against that.

Rep. Charles Canady (R-Fla.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said, "It's wrong to have an arbitrary time limit because that could short-circuit the process. We could be nearing the conclusion and be faced with an arbitrary time limit that could prevent us from thoughtfully and deliberately concluding the process."

Whatever their alternative, Democrats expect it will be turned down when the majority Republicans unite in favor of an impeachment process with the rules they favor.

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1974 Judiciary Committee report on the "Constitutional Grounds For Presidential Impeachment"


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Read the Starr Report or use the interactive guide

White House rebuttal

Starr's supporting documents

Supporting documents at a glance

Monica Lewinsky's testimony


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House Judiciary Committee


Wednesday, September 30, 1998

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