Judiciary Committee approves final article of impeachment
Democrats launch fight for censure
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, December 12) -- The House Judiciary Committee Saturday approved an abbreviated fourth article of impeachment against President Bill Clinton. With Republicans calling the allegation in Article IV "an assault on the Congress," the GOP-controlled committee voted to charge Clinton with making false statements in his answers to 81 questions the committee posed to him last month.
The committee voted, 21-16, along strict party lines.
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Before voting on the fourth article of impeachment, the committee agreed to delete charges the president made false and misleading statements to the people of the United States and his staff and frivolously asserted executive privilege.
The House of Representatives must now vote on whether to impeach the president on the committee's four articles and send him to trial in the Senate. The House floor vote is tentatively set for December 17.
In a statement after the committee's final impeachment vote, White House counsel Gregory Craig warned House members that voting to approve the articles would "gridlock the government and defy the people."
"Nothing about this process has been fair, nothing about this process has been bipartisan and nothing about this process has won the confidence of the American people," Craig said.
During Saturday's debate the committee's ranking Democrat, John Conyers of Michigan, warned Republicans of the seriousness of their actions.
"This does, sometimes to some people, begin to take on the appearance of a coup," Conyers said. "We're talking about a polite, paper-exchanging, voting process in which we rip out the forty-second president of the United States."
Once the committee finished voting on the fourth article of impeachment, it took up a Democratic proposal to censure Clinton, a formal condemnation of his behavior.
In a series of votes Friday, the 37-member committee approved three articles of impeachment, accusing Clinton of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Monica Lewinsky affair and the Paula Jones case.
The White House has already 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.
Although the censure measure is expected to fail in the Republican-controlled panel, Democrats said it would spare the country the serious consequences of a Senate trial while still punishing the president.
Speaking for the measure, Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Virginia) argued that a trial would divert Congress and the president from "the nation's urgent national agenda," immobilize the Supreme court and disrupt financial markets.
"I have a deep disdain for the president's actions," Boucher said. "He deserves the admonishment and the censure and the rebuke of the Congress ... Not only is this the public's preference, but it is the right thing to do."
Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Illinois), who let the censure measure be debated at Democrats' request, said passing it "would be to look the other way instead of confronting our collective responsibility under the Constitution."
Hyde also sarcastically complained the Democratic censure measure was flawed by the same "dearth of specificity" that Democrats complained about for hours during the debate on the GOP-drafted articles of impeachment.
The House Judiciary Committee reconvened Saturday morning about 9:30 a.m. ET to debate the last article of impeachment, charging Clinton with abusing his powers as president.
The day started with a debate on the amendment to Article IV to delete the charges that the president abused his power by making false statements to his staff and the American people and frivolously asserted executive privilege to prevent certain testimony.
Republican Rep. George Gekas of Pennsylvania proposed the amendment to give the benefit of the doubt to the president in his assertion of executive privilege.
Hyde said that although he and many other committee members believe the president did mislead the public and his staff, the statements referred to in Article IV were not made in sworn testimony. Hyde explained that the deletions reflect the committee's choice "to emphasize the statements made under oath."
The remaining portion of the charge deals with Clinton's answers to the 81 questions the committee posed to him last month. Republicans contend many of the president's answers were untruthful. Hyde reiterated the answers were given under oath, and thus, the charge of perjury in the president's responses to those questions should remain in Article IV, saying Clinton's answers stand "as an assault on the Congress."
Returning to the executive privilege deletion, Gekas argued that in the legal battles between Clinton's attorneys and Independent Counsel Ken Starr, the courts -- although ruling against Clinton -- upheld his right to attempt to invoke the privilege.
Gekas said the committee needed to show reverence for the office of the presidency and should not attack the privileges of the chief executive, even if some on the committee suspect Clinton misused the privilege.
While many Republicans expressed support for Gekas' amendment, Democratic Sen.-elect Charles Schumer of New York argued the amendment moved Article IV "not from the sublime to the ridiculous -- from the very ridiculous to simply the ridiculous."
The articles approved Friday charge Clinton with committing perjury before Starr's grand jury on August 17 and in the Jones case. The grand jury 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.
If they pass, Clinton would face the prospect of a trial in the Senate, where a two-thirds vote would be needed to remove him from office. If that happened, Vice President Al Gore would succeed him.
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