Democrats mull alternatives to impeachment
More Starr documents due out Friday; lawmakers wrangle over scope, length of inquiry
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, October 1) -- As House lawmakers head for a possible impeachment inquiry vote next week, Democrats are trying to fashion an alternative proposal to limit the scope of any congressional probe into the sex, perjury and obstruction-of-justice allegations against President Bill Clinton.
Rep. John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said Thursday the Judiciary Committee needs to find out whether Independent Counsel Ken Starr plans to send any further referrals to Congress. If not, the House ought to limit the time and scope of any impeachment inquiry, Conyers told reporters.
"This cannot be an never-ending fishing expedition," said Conyers, a Michigan Democrat. "This is not a guessing game and we have a responsibility to put this thing forward, leaving behind as much partisanship as is humanly possible in this place."
Conyers said Democrats hope to be able to announce an alternative to the proposed Republican inquiry Friday, but he refused to elaborate. Conyers did say censuring the president for his behavior in the Monica Lewinsky affair is "still under contemplation."
Republicans on the committee continued to press, though, a full review of Clinton's activities.
Rep. Charles Canady (R-Florida) accused Democrats of trying to discredit the process, saying one day they want to follow procedures used during the 1974 Watergate hearings and the next day not.
"Our focus is on getting to the truth," Canady said. "We believe that the American people are entitled to know the truth. We don't think that this is a matter that can simply be swept under the rug. There are very serious questions here concerning whether the president of the United States committed perjury before a grand jury, committed perjury in his deposition in the Paula Jones case and engaged in conduct amounting to the obstruction of justice."
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) said Republicans want a full, fair and independent review of Starr's materials and a time limit would not be conducive to that.
"We must follow the truth wherever it leads," Goodlatte said.
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt planned to convene a closed-door meeting of Judiciary Committee Democrats late Thursday to discuss an alternative to the Republican impeachment proposal. The House committee is set to begin debating Monday whether to launch an inquiry into the allegations against Clinton.
On Wednesday, Republican Chairman Henry Hyde suggested the committee follow the so-called "Watergate model" fashioned after the 1974 Judiciary hearings on President Richard Nixon.
But Democrats object to the open-ended nature of those rules. They are expected to create an alternative that sets a time limit on impeachment consideration and limits the scope of the investigation to the Lewinsky matter. Lewinsky is the intern with whom Clinton has admitted an improper intimate relationship, but the president has denied lying under oath or attempting to influence others to do so.
The Democrats also will discuss whether it is worthwhile to offer a resolution censuring Clinton as an alternative to impeachment. "That is not considered a strong possibility," according to one Democratic source.
The Gephardt meeting with Judiciary Democrats will be followed by a party leadership session Thursday evening. It is possible they will agree on their alternative.
Meanwhile, the Government Printing Office continues to work on another batch of documents from the files that Starr turned over to the House of Representatives last month.
The House Clerk's office has told Judiciary Committee members the documents' public release is still on schedule for Friday. Printed copies are expected in the morning and digital versions for the Internet later in the day.
Thursday, October 1, 1998
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