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

White House: Clinton's conduct does not warrant impeachment

White House floats idea of a 'plea agreement'

By John King/CNN

WASHINGTON (Sept. 10) -- The White House is planning to mount an aggressive push designed to persuade the American people, and the House of Representatives, that President Bill Clinton's conduct in the Monica Lewinsky matter does not warrant impeachment, White House aides and advisers tell CNN.

But there is some disagreement and disarray in the White House response to Independent Counsel Ken Starr's report to Congress, outlining his case for impeachment. White House aides have not been allowed access to the report, complicating efforts to compile an alternative document designed to challenge Starr's key conclusions.

House Democrats are expected to push Thursday to give Clinton attorney David Kendall access to the report before it is released by the House on Friday. It was not clear if the Democrats would succeed in that effort, or how hard they would fight if Republicans resist the move.

Clinton attorney David Kendall  

Meanwhile, Clinton continued his efforts to regain some political footing by following up his Wednesday meeting with House Democratic leaders with one with Senate Democrats Thursday.

Some presidential advisers favor bringing the entire matter to a halt by negotiating what would amount to a plea bargain -- agreeing to accept a resolution of censure or reprimand from the Congress in exchange for dropping any plans for impeachment hearings.

Key congressional leaders oppose this approach, but White House aides say they could ultimately be swayed to accept such an idea if public opinion remains firmly against impeaching the president.

One senior administration official said the White House would make the case that "Starr is overreaching" by suggesting the president should be impeached. This official said the president's new round of public apologies was in part designed to show Congress and the American public "that he understands the depth of their disappointment with him, that he has done some introspection and self-reflection."

This official said if Starr does not have any new blockbuster information, "then this is about sex and lying about sex and the American people do not think that is grounds for impeachment."

Anxious White House

Damage control efforts are further complicated by anxiety at the White House that the contents of the Starr report are unknown and that Clinton is still not giving aides the full story.

White House Chief of Staff
Erskine Bowles

White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles delivered a pep talk to senior staff members Thursday, reminding them that polls show the American people overwhelmingly support the policy direction of the Clinton Administration.

Two sources who attended the meeting said Bowles noted that while House consideration of Starr's report was obviously a troubling development, in a sense it was positive as well because the investigation of the president was moving "from a period of rumor and innuendo to a period of allegations and rebuttal."

Bowles went on to tell the staff the White House legal team was preparing to rebut the allegations, and then told them to press on with their work, citing polls showing the American people support the president's job performance.

One senior administration official said the White House strategy boiled down to this: "We believe the allegations minus what can be reasonably rebutted will not add up to equal impeachable offenses." This official went on to say "this isn't pleasant: The president in a tawdry fashion cheated on his wife and lied about it. But we do not believe the American people want him removed from office for that."

Vice President Al Gore ignored a shouted question Thursday about the Starr report to Congress. A senior White House aide who spoke at length with the vice president Thursday morning told CNN, "He's pretty calm about all this. Says we just need to let it play out, and keep reminding people there are two sides to this."

Clinton's multiple apologies

Most Democrats are still unwilling to publicly defend the president, particularly at a time when they do not know what is included in the Starr report.


Clinton's public apologies Wednesday and his private meetings with House and Senate Democrats were designed to shore up that shaky support. But Democratic congressional sources describe the mood of Democratic lawmakers as bleak, as strategists in House and Senate races increasingly voice concerns that the president's problems will hurt Democratic candidates in November's congressional elections.

A Democratic senator attending a private session with the president Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the message to Clinton was that he needed to be contrite publicly, and adopt a "total disclosure policy and that means no more surprises." This senator said he believed Clinton could survive the scandal, but there is "no question he is seriously wounded and weakened right now."

Clinton appears to be following the advice of continued apologies, as he again asked for forgiveness during fund-raisers in Florida Wednesday.

"I've tried to do a good job taking care of this country, even when I haven't taken such good care of myself and my family and my obligations," Clinton said at a Miami fund-raiser Wednesday night. "I hope that you and others I have injured will forgive me for the mistakes I've made, but the most important thing is you must not let it deter you from meeting you responsibilities as citizens."

It was the second time Wednesday that Clinton showed contrition to a Florida crowd. Earlier in Orlando he admitted that he had let the country down, but said he was determined to redeem himself.

"I have been your friend, I've done my best to be your friend, but I also let you down, and let my family down and I let my country down," Clinton said at the fund-raiser for Florida gubernatorial candidate Buddy MacKay.

Later in his Coral Gables speech, Clinton said the "rather painful journey" he's been on in recent weeks has "given me the chance to try to ask as all of us do what do you really care about ... what really matters?"


Thursday September 10, 1998

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