Bartlett, Ehrlich call for Clinton to resign from office President has lost credibility, Maryland Republicans assert

September 15, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- After reading Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report, two more Maryland Republican lawmakers -- Reps. Roscoe G. Bartlett of Western Maryland and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. of Baltimore County -- called yesterday for President Clinton's resignation.

In separate interviews, Bartlett and Ehrlich said Starr's report on the president's affair with Monica S. Lewinsky, and his subsequent efforts to conceal it, prove that Clinton committed perjury. The president has lost his credibility, the two men said, and has betrayed the trust of the American people.

"He clearly, clearly committed perjury many times," said Ehrlich, a second-term representative who first took office in the House as part of the conservative freshman class of 1995. "I don't think anyone can argue it."

Ehrlich said he is inclined to favor impeachment if the president decides not to resign.

Bartlett, who is the state's most conservative member of Congress, did not go quite that far.

"It's very clear to me that he committed perjury," Bartlett said. "Whether you want to reach the conclusion that you should impeach him for lying about a sexual matter is another question of judgment." Bartlett said he was not yet made that judgment.

Ehrlich and Bartlett joined a growing list of public officials, almost all Republicans, who have called for the president to depart from office voluntarily.

Last Friday, Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a moderate Republican from the Eastern Shore who has sometimes allied himself with the Clinton administration on issues involving the environment and campaign finance reform, became the state's first member of Congress to say Clinton could no longer govern effectively and that he should step down.

Yesterday's statements by Bartlett and Ehrlich sharpened the partisan divide that separates Maryland's representatives. Three of the four House Democrats -- Reps. Albert R. Wynn of Prince George's County, Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore and Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland -- count themselves among the president's most loyal supporters.

The sole Maryland Republican who has not called for Clinton's resignation, Rep. Constance A. Morella of Montgomery County, is considered one of the most liberal members of her party in the House. She demurred yesterday when asked whether reading the report affected her view on whether the president should resign.

"This is a personal decision," said Morella, who also said she thought Clinton's credibility had suffered from his affair with Lewinsky. "I don't know whether I have a say in that decision."

But Clinton is not known as a quitter. And for now, he appears to be giving signals that he thinks he can tough out this crisis.

Cummings, the Baltimore Democrat, spoke with Clinton Saturday after the president recorded a radio broadcast on a program that supports community groups combating drug use. "I can't imagine him resigning," Cummings said. "He asked me, how did I think it was going. He talked about the Congressional Black Caucus, and how grateful he was that we had supported him. He was talking about the [possible impeachment] legislation.

"I was surprised," Cummings said. "I expected him to be a little bit low."

A former defense attorney, Cummings said, "If you look at it from a prosecutor's standpoint, you probably have enough there to present to a jury. But I don't think you have enough to convict, once you take the president's rebuttal into account.

"A jury in Baltimore would be hard-pressed to find him guilty," Cummings said.

Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, the Baltimore-area Democrat who is most circumspect about his support for Clinton these days, said he was more troubled by Starr's allegations of perjury and witness tampering by Clinton than the salacious sexual details of the affair.

Yet, Cardin cautioned against the comparison that lawmakers from both parties are making between impeachment proceedings and court cases. Impeachment involves political calculations as well as judgments of fact, he said. That means different standards are used to decide whether to remove someone from office as opposed to send him to jail.

While a member of the House Judiciary Committee in 1989, Cardin served as a prosecutor of then federal Judge Walter Nixon of Mississippi before the full House.

Nixon lost his seat on the bench only after he was impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate of making false statements to a grand jury and a federal prosecutor. In 1986, he had been convicted by a federal jury of perjury and served several years in prison, but he kept his job.

Cardin said he thought Nixon had been treated too harshly in court, but that the impeachment was justified. "His [criminal] conviction was much more serious than the factual circumstances indicated," Cardin said. But, he said, "There's a difference between whether a person has committed a criminal offense or an impeachable offense."

Pub Date: 9/15/98

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