Judiciary members begin historic impeachment debate
Committee's decision could come Friday or Saturday
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, December 10) -- After clashing final arguments from staff lawyers, the House Judiciary Committee debated Thursday night whether to impeach President Bill Clinton on charges he lied, obstructed justice and abused his powers in the Monica Lewinsky affair.
A decision to send the case to the full House could come Friday or Saturday. With the Judiciary Committee vote to impeach Clinton all but certain, the White House has turned its focus to undecided members of Congress and next week's decision in the full House.
In 10-minute opening statements, Republican members of the 37-member Judiciary Committee argued that Clinton's misdeeds undermined the rule of law and diminished the presidency and he should be removed from office, while Democrats urged a resolution to censure and condemn the president instead.
The committee adjourned shortly before 9:45 p.m. ET, and will resume at 9 a.m. ET Friday.
Clinton has admitted to an illicit sexual relationship with Lewinsky, a former White House intern. But he has denied he committed perjury and obstruction of justice to cover up their relationship after Lewinsky was called as a witness in the Paula Jones sexual harassment-employment discrimination case.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) said Clinton's actions in the Jones case were aimed at preventing the courts from administering equal justice under the law.
"What is on trial here is the truth and the rule of law," Sensenbrenner said. He said he would vote for impeachment, adding, "I do so with no joy, but without apology."
But Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) said after all of Independent Counsel Ken Starr's investigation, all Congress is left with is the charge that Clinton had a private, consensual sexual affair and lied about it.
"That seems to many people an insufficient basis for an impeachment," Frank said.
Frank scoffed at Republican claims that allowing Clinton to get away with misleading statements in the Lewinsky affair would mean more lying among the military. "I think our military is made of sterner stuff than that," Frank said.
Frank urged the committee to consider a resolution of censure -- "a solemn vote of condemnation" -- rather than voting to impeach Clinton.
Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-California) said he waited until this week for the White House to offer a vigorous defense on the facts of the case. Clinton's legal team presented its defense case Tuesday and Wednesday.
"What I heard, unfortunately, was more legal hair-splitting," Gallegly said.
Gallegly said Clinton repeatedly lied under oath and lied to the American people, Congress and his staff "to protect himself and frustrate justice."
Rep. Chabot: 'The only remedy'
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) said the allegations against Clinton, taken individually, were serious. "Collectively, they're overwhelming," Chabot said.
Chabot said Clinton has "disgraced the sacred office of the president" and continues to deny and distort what happened. "Impeachment is the only remedy that addresses this president's illegal and unethical acts," Chabot said.
But Rep. William Delahunt (D-Massachusetts) said Starr's and the committee's process smacks of an Orwellian society, where the accused does not know what he is accused of and is presumed guilty unless he proves himself innocent.
Delahunt said whatever the nation's founding fathers meant by "high crimes and misdemeanors," they intended impeachment only for situations where the incumbent president poses such a danger to the nation that he must be replaced before the next election.
"It's the political equivalent of the death penalty," Delahunt said. "We should not use the ultimate sanction when there is an alternative at hand."
The committee's four proposed articles of impeachment, unveiled by Judiciary Committee Republicans Wednesday, focus on Clinton's testimony in the Jones case and before the Starr grand jury.
Here is a description of what the committee will consider Friday:
Article One concerns alleged perjury by Clinton before the grand jury. It charges that the president "willfully provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony" to the grand jury concerning his relationship with Lewinsky, in testimony he gave in the Jones case, with misleading statements he allowed his personal attorney, Bob Bennett, to make in that case and in efforts to influence the testimony of witnesses in the Jones case.
Article Two concerns alleged perjury in the Jones case, charging that the president provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony as part of his answers in the affidavit and in his deposition.
Article Three concerns obstruction of justice, charging Clinton with encouraging Lewinsky to submit a false written affidavit; encouraging her to give false testimony to the court; helping come up with a plan to hide gifts he exchanged with Lewinsky; intensifying efforts to help Lewinsky get a job to prevent her truthful testimony; allowing his attorney, Bennett, to make false and misleading statements about the Lewinsky affidavit; making false and misleading statements to Betty Currie, his secretary; and making false and misleading statements to his aides, Erskine Bowles, Bruce Lindsey and Sidney Blumenthal.
Article Four concerns abuse of power, charging the president with making misleading statements for the purpose of misleading and deceiving the people of the United States; false and misleading statements to members of the Cabinet and White House aides; frivolously asserting executive privilege; and making perjurious, false and misleading statements to Congress in his answers to the 81 questions asked him by the Judiciary Committee last month.
Each of the four articles ends with similar harsh language:
"In doing this, William Jefferson Clinton has undermined the integrity of his office, has brought disrepute on the Presidency, has betrayed his trust as President, and has acted in a manner subversive of the rule of law and justice, to the manifest injury of the United States.
"Wherefore, William Jefferson Clinton, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial and removal from office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States."If one or more of the articles of impeachment clear the committee, the vote in the full House is tentatively set for December 17.
Thursday, December 10, 1998
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