Gilchrest says Clinton is crippled, should quit Other Md. representatives withhold judgment for now

The Starr Report

September 12, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a moderate Republican from the Eastern Shore, yesterday became the first Maryland member of Congress to call for President Clinton's resignation, saying he believes Clinton's credibility has been destroyed.

Just hours after the release of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report detailing the president's sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, Gilchrest said he believes Clinton's acknowledged lies about the affair have undermined his ability to govern.

"I don't have any doubt in my mind that a substantial amount of what is being alleged in this report is true," said Gilchrest, an iconoclastic former civics teacher who has often bucked his party's leadership to side with the president on environmental matters. "When you lie to your Cabinet, and ask for their forgiveness, what is your level of credibility with them, and with world leaders? It's gone."

And therefore, Gilchrest said, the president should resign.

"I think it would be better for Bill Clinton, and I think it would be better for us, too," Gilchrest said. "I'm not going to sign a letter, or hold a press conference [to say so], but I think it would be better.

"I'm not a psychiatrist or anything, but it seems to me Bill Clinton has come to his limit. He's going to have to come to terms with this situation," Gilchrest said, the disappointment evident in his voice during an interview. "The nation will survive. The nation is stronger than this kind of activity. Whether he resigns, whether he is impeached, the country will survive."

With those comments, Gilchrest added himself to a growing list of public figures calling on the president to step down, but one that is dominated so far by conservative Republican lawmakers and a scattershot of Democratic candidates nationwide.

Gilchrest issued the first resignation call from the moderate wing of the GOP, a faction that has, at times, backed the Clinton administration on issues such as campaign finance reform and the environment. Such stances occurred against the wishes of House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who led Republicans to their takeover of Congress in 1995.

The other seven Marylanders in the House asked to reserve judgment on Clinton's fate for a while. Not one of them, whether Democrat or Republican, expressed much surprise yesterday afternoon over the allegations detailed in the Starr report.

But they said the explicitness of the sexual encounters involving Clinton might turn some of the public against him. Currently, vTC Clinton enjoys relatively high approval ratings for how he has carried out his official duties.

"There's nothing new here. All of these allegations are obviously there. What is new is the detail in there," said Rep. Roscoe T. Bartlett, a conservative Republican from Western Maryland. "The president is in a sense his own worst enemy here. Because the president used his own little dictionary as to whether sex occurred, he made it necessary for Ken Starr to list every little detail.

"Whether he is impeached, whether he resigns, will depend on the American public. We are a representative government. We cannot impeach a president who the public does not want impeached," Bartlett said.

"The report didn't really break new ground, it just provided more lurid details," said Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Prince George's County Democrat. "The question is not whether it's perjury. The question is whether it's high crimes and misdemeanors. That's not to justify perjury; that's just not what he's being charged with.

"A person will lie to protect their wife and child and themselves, particularly when you're talking about their personal life. The question was not, Did you take the money? or, Did you get a kickback on a trade agreement?

"I still consider myself a supporter of the president, but I want to keep an open mind until I've seen all the evidence of the case."

Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat who has also been a stalwart Clinton backer, said he thought Republicans may be too eager to seek the most dire punishment for the president. "I believe the framers of the Constitution did not intend [impeachment] for offenses other than grave offenses that impacted on exercising the responsibilities of the office," said Hoyer, who stressed that he had not yet had a chance to read the report.

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Baltimore County Republican, said ,, Starr's allegations could fall within that category.

"It appears there are many, many instances of alleged perjury among the areas of very significant acts that could constitute crimes," Ehrlich said yesterday. "The only surprising aspect of this whole episode when it comes to Bill Clinton is that anybody is surprised."

Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Montgomery County Republican, and Reps. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore and Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore County, said yesterday afternoon that they would read the report over the weekend.

"I'm saddened, deeply saddened by this," Morella said. "I just wish it didn't happen -- that none of this came about and that we did not have this in front of us. I wished the president had behaved in such a way that this did not happen.

"Back in January, if he had done a mea maxima culpa, maybe we could have more readily pushed it aside than we can now."

Pub Date: 9/12/98

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