Judiciary approves three articles of impeachment
Committee returns Saturday to debate abuse-of-power allegation
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, December 11) -- In a historic step toward removing Bill Clinton as president, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment Friday, accusing him of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Monica Lewinsky affair.
The 37-member panel reconvenes at 9 a.m. ET Saturday to debate and vote on a fourth charge that Clinton abused his office as president.
On two of the articles -- grand jury perjury and obstruction of justice -- the vote broke on strict party lines, with the committee's 21 Republicans voting to impeach and 16 Democrats voting against it.
The vote on alleged perjury in the Paula Jones case, though, was 20-17. Rep. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the only Republican to defect and vote no, said he gave Clinton "the legal benefit of the doubt" because of a confusing definition of sexual relations used in the Jones case.
The committee acted despite another public apology from Clinton Friday for his actions in the Lewinsky affair.
The articles approved so far charge Clinton with obstructing justice and committing perjury before Independent Counsel Ken Starr's grand jury on August 17 and in the Jones case. The grand jury perjury allegation is that the president "willfully provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony" to the grand jury concerning his relationship with Lewinsky, an ex-White House intern.
The articles of impeachment must be voted on by the full House, a vote tentatively set for next Thursday. If they pass there, Clinton would face the prospect of a trial in the Senate, where a two-thirds vote would be needed to remove him from office. Vice President Al Gore would succeed him.
Shortly after the committee's initial 21-16 vote on Article I, White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart ripped the committee's action as partisan. "The fact that today's vote was strictly along party lines speaks for itself," Lockhart told CNN.
The committee's first vote came after four hours of debate and only moments after Clinton's latest apology, delivered in the Rose Garden.
The deeply divided committee's mark up of the grand jury perjury charge began with a heated debate over the specifics of the allegation against Clinton.
Democrats Charles Schumer of New York and Barney Frank of Massachusetts argued that the "deliberate vagueness" in the language of Article I masked the Republicans' lack of evidence to impeach the president.
"We are dealing with impeaching a president and if you can't state the specifics and you want to move forward, something is wrong with the process," Schumer argued.
But Committee Chairman Henry Hyde said, "The chair would like to respond to Mr. Schumer. That was the purpose of the presentation yesterday (Thursday). You want us to rehash. I think that's an imposition ..."
Hyde said the entire record, including the report from Starr and majority counsel David Schippers, would be sent to the Senate if the House votes to approve the articles.
Republican Bob Barr of Georgia charged the Democrats with attempting to "tie the hands of the Senate" by enumerating the specifics of perjury before a possible trial. Barr said the Republicans have given the president an idea of "the nature of the charges against him," which should be sufficient for now.
The committee also adopted an amendment to Article I, proposed by Republican James Rogan of California, which changed the language of the article to charge Clinton with perjurious, false and misleading testimony in "one or more" of a number of situations itemized in the article, instead of in all the itemized situations.
Democrats strongly objected to the amendment. But Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) called the amendment a solution to a simple "drafting error" and the measure passed on a party-line vote of 21-16.
The panel is expected to approve at least two of the four articles drafted by the Republican majority that allege Clinton lied, obstructed justice and abused his powers in trying to hide his affair with Lewinsky.
The debate began with committee members' opening statements Thursday night and Friday morning -- both for undecided members of the full House and the historical record.
"This vote says something about us," Hyde told the committee. "It answers the question, just who are we? And what do we stand for? Is the president one of us or is he a sovereign?
"I suggest impeachment is like beauty -- apparently in the eye of the beholder," Hyde said, explaining why so many experts have argued Clinton's offenses do not rise to the level of impeachment. "I hold a different view. And it is not a vengeful one, it's not vindictive and it's not craven."
But Democratic Robert Wexler of Florida warned that an impeachment trial would be a wrenching, national ordeal.
"If you are sick of all Monica, all Monica all the time, you ain't seen nothing yet," Wexler said. "Be prepared to turn on your TV and watch the chief justice of the Supreme Court swear in Lucianne Goldberg, Linda Tripp -- endless testimony in front of the whole world showcasing America at it's most absurd." (Tripp is the onetime Lewinsky friend who secretly taped their conversations and Goldberg is a New York literary agent and friend of Tripp.)
"The president's own words and admissions, combined with a dose of common sense, support the charges that the president lied under oath," Republican Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas countered.
His fellow Republican, Graham of South Carolina, argued that impeachment is the right course and a Senate trial of the president would not paralyze the country. "This country is strong and we will survive," Graham said.
With the impeachment votes in committee vote all but certain, the White House already has turned its focus to undecided members of Congress and next Thursday's House floor vote. An estimated 20 GOP moderates could hold the key to Clinton's fate.
Republican members of Judiciary Committee have 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.
Clinton has admitted to an illicit sexual relationship with Lewinsky. But he has denied he committed perjury or obstruction of justice to cover up their relationship after Lewinsky was called as a witness in the Paula Jones sexual harassment-employment discrimination case.
Sensenbrenner 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."
During Thursday's debate Frank said after all of 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, the nation's commander in chief, to get away with misleading statements in the Lewinsky affair would mean more lying among the military. "I think our military is of sterner stuff than that," Frank said.
He 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."
Friday, December 11, 1998
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Transcript: President Bill Clinton says he's sorry
Transcripts: Opening statements from Judiciary Committee members
Judiciary Committee's voting record on articles of impeachment
Poll: Americans divided on Clinton's apologies
Television networks nearly miss historic vote
Committee impeachment focus fizzles after dark
Issue ad controversy is not over
Tripp's former attorney refuses to answer grand jury questions