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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Impeachment and Iraq fill the president's time

By John King/CNN

WASHINGTON (December 17) -- President Bill Clinton's decision Wednesday to go ahead with what he called "a strong, sustained series of attacks" on Iraq, capped off a long day that seemed to be going in two directions at once. Here is a brief look at the events that filled the president's day Wednesday and the days just prior to the airstrikes against Iraq.

Israel - Saturday night, December 12

The stage was being set for the latest confrontation with Iraq during Clinton's recent trip to the Middle East. The president was first briefed on the strike plan Saturday night in Israel. He was told Iraq was again refusing to cooperate with United Nations weapons inspectors.

Air Force One - Tuesday, December 15

The president signed off on Operation Desert Fox as he flew home to Washington from the Middle East Tuesday night.

Washington - 11:43 p.m. ET Tuesday, December 15

It was close to midnight when the president landed back at the White House Tuesday. He then spent two hours shuttling from briefings on Iraq to meetings full of bad news about growing Republican support for at least one of the four articles of impeachment the House was scheduled to vote on Thursday.

Washington - 1 a.m. ET Wednesday, December 16

A little after one in the morning Wednesday the president called House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Missouri) to talk impeachment and Iraq.

White House - 7 a.m. ET Wednesday, December 16

After a few hours sleep it was back to juggling the two momentous issues. Clinton went straight from 7 a.m. ET White House Situation Room meeting on Iraq to Chief of Staff John Podesta's office to talk impeachment. Meanwhile, Vice President Al Gore was making a pitch for censure.

Full story: Gore rallies support for Clinton

Washington - 8:30 a.m. ET Wednesday, December 16

Marking an extraordinary moment on a remarkable day, the president gave the green light to strike Iraq, and walked out of a top secret national security meeting and into a top level staff meeting on impeachment.

Full Story: Clinton: Iraq has abused its final chance

Washington - 9:30 a.m. ET Wednesday, December 16

The president had a telephone call with British Prime Minister Tony Blair Wednesday morning. Both agree that Operation Desert Fox was a go. After the call, Republican Congressman Amo Houghton of New York stopped by the White House to discuss impeachment.

The president spent the majority of the day on the phone and out of the public eye. He made calls to outgoing Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R- Georgia) and the Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) to update them on the military operation.

CNN has learned Clinton also spoke to at least two Democrats about impeachment, complaining that Republicans are out to get him.

Washington - 4:30 p.m. ET Wednesday, December 16

The first wave of attack against Iraq started 4:30 p.m. ET Wednesday and Lott launched an extraordinary attack on the president. Saying that he could not support the military operation, Lott raised questions about the timing of the strikes.

Full Story: Sen. Lott questions timing of airstrikes on Iraq

Washington - 6 p.m. ET Wednesday, December 16

Ten hours after ordering the attack, the president addressed the nation about an international military operation.

Looking the world in the eye Wednesday night Clinton announced: "Good evening. I ordered America's armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq."

The president also added one caveat about a domestic political crisis.

"Saddam Hussein and other enemies of peace may have thought that the serious debate currently before the House of Representatives and would distract American or weaken our resolve to face him down," Clinton said. "But once more, the United States has proven that although we are never eager to use force, when we must act in America's vital interest we will."

All questions about the timing of the attack were left to the president's Republican Defense Secretary, William Cohen.

"I am prepared to place 30 years of public service on the line to say the only factor that was important in this decision is what was in the American people's best interest. There were no other factors," Cohen said.

Full Story: Pentagon unveils details of Operation Desert Fox

Washington - Thursday, December 17

Republicans remain openly skeptical of the president's timing, but they have put off for now the House debate and vote on impeachment. White House sources say it is a vote the president is expected to lose.

Full Story: Impeachment debate delayed

Investigating the President


Thursday, December 17, 1998

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